Monday for Mali, Monday for hope
Monday, 18 February, is an exceptional day of solidarity, dedicated to Mali. Decision-makers and experts from Mali, France and UNESCO will join forces at UNESCO Headquarters to set out an action plan, aimed at rebuilding Mali’s cultural heritage and safeguarding its historic manuscripts.
Along with UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, Bruno Maïga and Aurélie Filippetti, the Culture Ministers of Mali & France respectively, will open the event. Experts and managers of Mali’s heritage sites, museums and libraries will offer an overview of the damage that cultural heritage suffered during the conflict. They will also examine how the crisis affects the future preservation of cultural objects, such as the project of creating a digital library for Timbuktu’s famous manuscripts. UNESCO and its partners’ strategic response to the crisis will then be discussed. By 5:30 pm, an action plan is expected to be ready, and will be presented at a press conference. The day will conclude with a star-studded concert featuring Mali’s most distinguished musicians, including Rokia Traoré, Bafing Kul & the Appolo Band, Mali Den, Cheick Tidiane Seck, Pedro Kouyaté, and Inna Modja.
“Rebuilding cultural heritage will give the Malian people the strength and confidence to rebuild national unity and look to the future,” said Irina Bokova. Indeed, protecting heritage means protecting people. It is about protecting their way of life, values, identities. It provides them with essential resources to rebuild when war ends. Destroying culture hurts societies for the long term. It deprives them of collective memory banks as well as precious social and economic assets.
The day-long event follows the Director-General’s visit to Mali on 2 February, together with French president François Hollande, and repeated appeals by UNESCO to protect the country’s heritage. Since the conflict first erupted, UNESCO has worked closely with Malian authorities to implement relevant and appropriate emergency measures.
Heritage maps with geographical coordinates were developed to help Malian forces identify, and avoid damaging, cultural heritage sites during turmoil. A “Heritage Passport” was created to raise awareness and protect cultural heritage in the north of Mali.
Further, UNESCO is working with Interpol, the World Customs Organization, and French and Italian specialized police forces to prevent a rise in the illicit trafficking of Mali’s cultural wealth. In addition to financial assistance provided to Mali by the World Heritage Fund and the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, Ms Bokova has set up a Special Fund to offer emergency assistance to Mali to tangible and intangible cultural heritage as well as carrying out reconstruction and rehabilitation projects as soon as the security situation allows. This Fund will also be used to reinforce the capacities of the cultural heritage site managers and the local communities of Timbuktu and Gao in the management and safeguarding of their heritage.
Seriously affected by the recent conflict, the World Heritage sites of Timbuktu and Tomb of Askia have been placed on the List of UNESCO World Heritage in Danger. Last year, in the wake of the destruction of the sacred shrines in Timbuktu, a spokesman for one of the Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, declared to the press that “there is no world heritage. It does not exist. Infidels must not get involved in our business.” Our 18 Februrary event is proof of the contrary.