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Africa Award for saving manuscripts from Timbuktu

07.10.2014 - Article

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier presented the German Africa Award 2014 to Abdel Kader Haidara, a librarian from Timbuktu, on 6 October.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier presents the Africa Award to Abdel Kader Haidara
Foreign Minister Steinmeier presents the Africa Award to Abdel Kader Haidara© Photothek/Trutschel

Abdel Kader Haidara, a librarian from Timbuktu, was awarded the German Africa Award 2014 by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on 6 October. It is thanks largely to Haidara that centuries-old manuscripts from Timbuktu were rescued from impending destruction at the hands of Islamist rebels at the end of 2012.

These manuscripts hold the twelfth‑ and thirteenth‑century Arab world’s entire body of scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge. The approximately 350,000 manuscripts from the library in Timbuktu, many of which are centuries old and declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, were threatened by destruction at the hands of Islamist rebels at the end of 2012. The manuscripts were saved as part of a secret rescue operation. The librarian and manuscript expert Abdel Kader Haidara managed to hide more than 200,000 documents for months, before getting them to safety in the capital Bamako.

Courage, endurance and determination

Ancient Islamic writings from Timbuktu
Ancient Islamic writings from Timbuktu© photothek.net/Gottschalk

Foreign Minister Steinmeier awarded Haidara the German Africa Award for his efforts to preserve the manuscripts. In his speech, Steinmeier said that the winner of the Africa Award 2014 embodied courage, endurance and determination:

Courage because Haidara had risked his life in order to save cultural treasures from fanatics. Endurance because, when he rescued the manuscripts, no one knew how long the terrorists’ rule in Timbuktu would last. And determination as the citizens of Timbuktu had “sent a clear signal of resistance to those who would abuse religion to establish a regime of violence and destruction”.

Delegitimising the terrorists

Work to delegitimise the terrorists, Steinmeier added, is an essential prerequisite for fighting the Islamist terrorism – as also demonstrated by current events in Iraq and Syria. The Foreign Minister continued:

International efforts will only be successful if Muslims themselves delegitimise the Islamist terrorists, if the Muslim world stands up and says: “These radicals do not speak for Islam. They are abusing Islam.” This applies to Mali just as much as it does to Iraq.

Strengthening African responsibility

Courage, endurance and determination: award winner Abdel Kader Haidara
Courage, endurance and determination: award winner Abdel Kader Haidara© Photothek/Trutschel

Examples of endurance and determination are to be found throughout Africa, Steinmeier said, such as among doctors and nurses fighting the Ebola crisis with all their might. One of the western partners’ main tasks is therefore to support Africa’s own initiatives and responsibility, instead of making suggestions from outside.

The manuscripts are an excellent example of this cooperation, said the Foreign Minister: were it not for Abdel Kader Haidara’s initiative, there would be nothing at all to preserve. “But if we can help to preserve cultural heritage as a partner – a heritage for which a courageous Malian was even prepared to risk his own life – then we are more than ready to do our part.”

Further information

Preserving manuscripts from Timbuktu (18 June 2014)

Rescuing cultural treasures in Mali (25 February 2013)

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