[Mansa-l] Timbuktu manuscripts fundraising response

Stephen Wooten swooten at uoregon.edu
Sat Jun 8 13:58:08 CDT 2013

Passing along a message from Stephanie Diakite, who is not a list subscriber.



Dear Stephen,

Thank you for bringing the concerns of Mr. Hall to our attention.  

I would appreciate your informing him that more than 300 000 evacuated manuscripts are in hand in safehouses and that a first time ever inventory of the the manuscripts has been completed.    We have identified 73 large categories of manuscripts in the inventory in a large variety of languages as stated.  Many manuscripts do not originate in Timbuktu as stated.   

Please also remind Mr. Hall that the public collection containing 29, 000 manuscripts that Abdel Kader and his teams from SAVAMA DCI (which Mr. Hall does not seem to know is an association of library families) evacuated was returned to the Government as soon as it arrived in the south.  This collection is not part of the manuscripts in safekeeping subsequent to evacuation operations he lead with SAVAMA DCI.  Nor is it part of the work of T160K.  

Please also remind him that it is part of the public record, if Mr. Hall had consulted it, that our current efforts are an in extremis response to very significant physical integrity issues being experienced by the evacuated manuscripts.  They are distinct from any long term efforts to permanently record the contents of the corpus through digitization or for research in the corpus.  

Finally, we would have welcomed Mr. Hall's interest and responded to his concerns if he had brought them to us.  

building institutions for growth

Stephanie Diakité, JC-JD/MBA/PhD

mobile in africa +223 76 43 89 06

mobile in usa +1 206 948 5882

skype:  stephanie.diakite

semdiakite at gmail.com


d intl is a women owned company registered in Africa and the United States of America

On Jun 8, 2013, at 10:33 AM, bruce hall wrote:

> Dear Mansadenw,
> I have some concerns about the efforts to fund raise for the Timbuktu Arabic manuscripts that may be of interest to some of you:
> Response to fundraising letter “T160K – Timbuktu Libraries in Exile”
> A fundraising email has recently been circulated by Stephanie Diakité seeking to raise money to save Timbuktu’s Arabic manuscripts. The campaign is called “T160K – Timbuktu Libraries in Exile” and its stated aim is to raise 7 million dollars (US) in order to safely store “300,000 medieval manuscripts evacuated from Timbuktu.” I would like to share my concerns about this effort, which is in part based on 15 years of experience working with Timbuktu manuscript materials in my own research. While I certainly share the larger objective of protecting the Arabic manuscripts in Mali, I am not convinced that this campaign is the best way to accomplish this end. 
> There are several red flags in the fundraising appeal. The nature of the Arabic manuscripts in Timbuktu is misrepresented in a way that is not unique to this fundraiser, but which nonetheless should be a cause of concern. The number of manuscripts at issue is also exaggerated by a factor of at least ten and the claims that secrecy must be maintained for the safety of the manuscripts and those who have acted to rescue them belies credulity. It seems to me that those who wish to support Malian efforts to safeguard its manuscript heritage should demand a much more transparent and cooperative strategy agreed to by all stakeholders before offering financial support. They should also expect a credible longer term plan for making this material accessible to researchers and others with legitimate interest in the contents of these texts. 
> Much of the story of what has happened to the Timbuktu Arabic manuscripts during the last two years of civil conflict in Mali (2012-13) remains shrouded in mystery. Despite initial reports in the Western media of the destruction of manuscripts by Islamist-jihadists in early 2013, only a relatively small number (perhaps as high as several hundred) seem to have been destroyed at one of the Ahmed Baba Institute’s buildings in Timbuktu where manuscripts were not being stored. The rest of the manuscripts either remained in their normal storage place elsewhere in Timbuktu, or they were transferred to southern Mali in a process that was apparently led by Abdel Kader Haidara, a Timbuktu owner of an important manuscript library (the Mamma Haidara Library in Timbuktu) and the leader of a NGO devoted to supporting private manuscript owners in Mali (SAVAMA - Sauvegarde et Valorisation des Manuscrits pour la Défense de la Culture Islamique). With the support of
> the Ford Foundation, the German Embassy in Bamako, and several other donors, Abdel Kader Haidara apparently organized the clandestine transfer of manuscripts to Bamako while Timbuktu was under Islamist-jihadist occupation. If these accounts are true, we must indeed be grateful to those involved in protecting the manuscripts while they remained in Timbuktu, and to those who succeeded in transferring them to safety. 
> In Stephanie Diakité’s fundraising email, she rightly points out that one of the main dangers faced by those manuscripts that are now in Bamako is the change in environment. In Timbuktu and the rest of Northern Mali, the manuscripts survived in a climate that was mostly hot and dry, with episodes of intense humidity in the annual rainy season. In Bamako, the climate is more humid for longer periods of time, and this could have a deleterious effect on the manuscripts. 
> My concerns with the T160K fundraising appeal is that I do not believe, on the basis of the information that has been made public, that this is the appropriate vehicle for safeguarding the manuscripts. There are three principal problems:
> 1. Mischaracterization of Mali’s Arabic manuscripts: There is a tendency among fundraisers to refer to Timbuktu’s manuscripts in almost mystical terms. This is a widespread problem, not limited to this appeal. But the misrepresentation of the manuscripts by Stephanie Diakité in the talk given at the University of Oregon (for which there is a video link in the fundraising email) should give reason to pause. In her talk, Stephanie Diakité suggests that the manuscripts represent an unparalleled richness of knowledge in secular and religious subjects, written not just in Arabic but in many other local languages (she claims that there are even many manuscripts written in Farsi!) In addition to their purported encyclopedic and polyglot character, Stephanie Diakité argues that the manuscripts are a kind of unifying object, around which peace in Northern Mali can be built. She proposes that research should focus mostly on recovering the instances of
> conflict resolution and peace-making that can be found in the manuscripts because this will provide models for Malians in the present to overcome the things that divide them.
> There is some truth in these characterizations, but we misunderstand the value of the Arabic manuscript libraries in Timbuktu if we remove them from the intellectual and cultural context in which they were produced. They are a wonderfully important potential resource for scholars, both Malian and non-Malian, but they are best understood as the product of a wider tradition of Islamic scholarship across West Africa and the broader Muslim World. The libraries in Timbuktu are part of a wider scholarly culture richest in Mauritania and Northern Mali, but also quite developed in other areas of West Africa such as Northern Guinea and Northern Nigeria where there is a history of significant Muslim learning traditions. The overwhelming majority (at least 98%) of the manuscripts are written in literary Arabic. There are some texts written in so-called Ajami, the term used to describe writing in local African languages. These Ajami works consist mostly of didactic
> works and religious poetry composed for the purposes of Islamic proselytization. The vast majority of manuscripts that are longer than a single-page letter or contract are concerned with one or another branch of the Islamic religious sciences. There are a number of historical chronicles and other texts of more “secular” interest such as a recently-published work on local pharmacology (http://vecmas-tombouctou.ens-lyon.fr). The more documentary materials such as letters, contracts, legal opinions, etc., are extremely useful sources for historians and other scholars interested in the intellectual history of Muslim West Africa. And there are indeed instances in the letters and legal materials in particular of scholars playing the role of mediator in a conflict, or admonishing people for behaving badly. But the manuscripts must be understood as part of a much wider tradition of Islamic scholarship in West Africa and in the Muslim World more broadly.
> They are very important for what they are; they do not need to be made into an object of veneration.    
> 2. Exaggeration of the number of manuscripts: The number 300,000 quoted in the fundraising appeal is at best a guess at the total number of Arabic manuscripts that are extant in Northern Mali altogether, rather than a representation of the number of manuscripts held in libraries that have been opened by their owners, or which have been transferred to Bamako. Most private collections are quite small, often numbering in the several hundreds of manuscripts. Very rich collections might reach several thousand. So the magnitude of the problem of the “manuscripts in exile” seems quite different from the claims made in the fundraising email. In addition, T160K is only concerned with private libraries. In Timbuktu, a government archive was created in the 1970s to collect Arabic manuscript material from Mali, and it was named after Ahmed Baba (d.1627), one of Timbuktu’s most famous Muslim scholars (Centre de Documentation et de Recherche Ahmed Baba [CEDRAB],
> later renamed the Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Ahmed Baba [IHERIAB]). 
> At the beginning of the crisis in 2012, the Ahmed Baba Institute held the most important collection of Arabic manuscript materials in Mali. It is somewhat difficult to evaluate the number of manuscripts held by this archive because of the increasing interest over the last decade of claiming any scrap of paper with Arabic writing on it as a unique manuscript. There are certainly 3-5000 manuscript texts of works of significant length. In addition, there are many single-page letters, contracts, poems, etc. that may bring the total to 25-30,000 items. The majority of these manuscripts have apparently been removed from Timbuktu and turned over to government officials in Bamako. There are also a number of private libraries in Timbuktu and elsewhere in Mali that hold smaller collections of various size and importance. The largest and most important is that of Abdel Kader Haidara (the Mamma Haidara Library in Timbuktu). 
> 3. Secrecy: In light of the discussion about the number of manuscript, it is perhaps not surprising that T160K claims a need to keep the exact whereabouts of the manuscripts secret. I can think of no good reason for this if the manuscripts are now being stored in Bamako. At the very least, one would hope that there would be more transparency about what exactly has been moved so that a better assessment of the real needs could be made. But the issue of secrecy is not new in the domain of Timbuktu manuscript libraries. Over the course of the last 15 years, millions of dollars have been spent on manuscript preservation projects—both public and private—yet access to those manuscripts (before the crisis in in January 2012) became increasingly difficulty over the same time period. Arabic documents became a kind of capital to be hoarded, rather than historical or intellectual texts to be shared and made known to wider audiences. The private associations and
> libraries have been largely funded by American foundations and European donors, on the premise that they are more efficient organizations for doing the necessary work of manuscript preservation than the state-run archive. They have the arguable advantage of keeping the manuscripts in the hands of the families that have inherited them. But this model has only found funding from outside institutions and is completely unsustainable otherwise. Even with this outside support, these private institutions have proven mostly unwilling to open their collections to researchers according to normal rules of access found even in state archives in Mali. As such, they have in some ways discouraged research on these important texts, which is completely contrary to the outcome of the projects that have funded them. 
> In February of this year, UNESCO agreed on an Action Plan for the rehabilitation of Mali’s Cultural Heritage. The organization aims to raise 11 million dollars (US) for this effort. It includes funds devoted to Mali’s manuscript heritage. One of the important directives of the UNESCO Action Plan is that Mali’s Arabic manuscripts should be digitized in order to safeguard their content and to make it possible for researchers to gain wider access to this material. Stephanie Diakité is quite reticent in her University of Oregon presentation about digitization or fully opening up the private manuscript materials to the use of researchers. It is of course the right of the private library owners to set the rules of access to their materials, but it seems to me that donors should insist that open access be a condition of support.
> I think that the principle of open access should be part of our discussions and efforts to safeguard Mali’s manuscript heritage. There are different models that have been tried in Djenné (Mali) and in other places in West Africa that aim to preserve manuscripts under private ownership, while at the same time making their content available to qualified researchers. There is no reason why Timbuktu’s manuscripts should not be held to the same standard.
> Bruce S. Hall
> Associate Professor
> Department of History
> Duke University
> Durham, NC, 27708
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