• Innovators Venture

The librarian revived curiosity in Mali’s successfully-known previous … then needed to assign it from jihadists.

Published April 21, 2014

25 min read

It modified into as soon as early in the summer of 2012, and at the Mamma Haidara Library in Timbuktu, a clandestine operation modified into as soon as below intention. Night after evening, a personnel below the direction of the library’s founder, Abdel Kader Haidara, quietly packed the feeble works of astronomy, poetry, historical previous, and jurisprudence into metal chests, then sharp them out of the library in mule carts and 4x4s to safe homes scattered all the procedure in which by the city.

It modified into as soon as half of a closing-ditch strive to protect the country’s most important assortment of historic manuscripts from falling into the hands of militants allied to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Six months earlier, terrorist groups had seized northern Mali and launched a scientific effort to abolish something else they considered as haram—forbidden—in step with their harsh interpretation of Islamic practices.

The extremists’ inroads, militarily and culturally, held a tragic irony: Haidara as a scholar and community leader had made it his lifestyles’s work to doc, as by no intention sooner than, Mali’s achievements as an feeble middle of modern belief, including Islamic teachings that were anathema to the fanaticism that AQIM modified into as soon as now attempting to unfold by the West African country.

And Haidara’s manuscripts were priceless for what they stated extra broadly about Africa’s historical previous. Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who visited Timbuktu and Haidara in 1996, explains that Hegel, Kant, and numerous Enlightenment philosophers contended that Africa had no tradition of writing, and resulting from this reality no historical previous and no reminiscence.

“And except you can have confidence these, you are not a civilization, which modified into as soon as a pernicious argument that offered justification for the slave replace,” Gates stated in a fresh interview. “The absence of writing, of books, modified into as soon as considered as a reflection of the subhuman put of the Africans. So the presence of these books had excessive, excessive stakes, going relief to the 18th century. Kant and Hegel and Hume failed to know something else about this.”

Over 9 tense months, Haidara and his personnel rescued 350,000 manuscripts from 45 numerous libraries in and around Timbuktu and hid them in Bamako, extra than 400 miles from the AQIM-managed north. There were many close calls, including one sharp Haidara’s nephew, Mohammed Touré, a 25-year-veteran curator at the library. One evening when he modified into as soon as leaving work with a trunk paunchy of manuscripts destined for hiding, Touré came face-to-face with Oumar Ould Hamaha, one in every of AQIM’s most inflexible zealots.

Hamaha shone a flashlight in Touré’s face and demanded that he commence the chest. “He stated, ‘You are stealing them,'” Touré recalled one fresh afternoon in the Malian capital of Bamako. “I stated, ‘No, right here is my library.'”

Islamic police arrested the curator and and dragged him to the commissariat of the Islamic police. He modified into as soon as charged with theft, a prime crime below sharia. “I risked shedding my hand, my foot,” Touré stated. “They’d already started lowering off hands in public locations.”

Taking into consideration immediate, Touré, who is successfully grounded in Islamic overview, cited hadiths and Koranic verses declaring that incontrovertible proof of a misdeed modified into as soon as required sooner than punishment modified into as soon as meted out. “They stated, ‘The proof is there; you were robbing this library.’ I stated, ‘It belonged to me, and I modified into as soon as transferring it to a extra secure situation.'” He bought himself time, but his destiny modified into as soon as unclear.

His uncle swung into action. Having fled Timbuktu to dwell in self-imposed exile in Bamako, Haidara manned the telephones, calling imams, neighborhood leaders, and numerous librarians, who came forward with paperwork and affidavits attesting to Touré’s position as curator. After 24 hours in custody, the Islamic police let him lumber.

“Traumatized by the Jihadists”

However the face-offs with the jihadists kept coming. AQIM operatives stopped, searched, and arrested Haidara’s couriers. Bandits captured a ship paunchy of books on the Niger River and held it for ransom. Malian authorities soldiers in most cases broke commence trunks paunchy of manuscripts in a behold weapons, roughly pawing by the fragile volumes.

Within the closing half of the rescue, all the procedure in which by the French militia intervention of January 2013 that drove AQIM from northern Mali, a French helicopter almost about fired missiles at a ship bringing manuscripts downriver—the pilots suspected that Haidara’s assistants were smuggling weapons. “We were fully traumatized by the jihadists. All lets attain modified into as soon as work,” Haidara urged me in Bamako, of that sophisticated time. “I would possibly presumably by no intention have confidence imagined this sort of thing happening goal staunch about a months sooner than. All the pieces collapsed in a single day. The suppose had stopped sleek. So we goal staunch needed to secure working, doing what lets attain. I had tons of pals, tons of partners, these who gave me a couple of recommendation, so that I by no intention felt fully deserted.”

A Mountainous Culture Rediscovered

For Haidara, 50, the scion of a successfully-known family of students and collectors from Timbuktu and numerous towns alongside the Niger in northern Mali, the rescue marked the culmination of a protracted occupation as a champion of the country’s cultural patrimony.

“Abdel Kader feels as near the manuscripts as he does to his young of us,” says Stephanie Diakité, an American attorney who modified into entranced by the works 20 years ago all the procedure in which by a visit to Mali and made up our minds to intention their preservation her lifestyles’s calling.

She labored aspect by aspect with Haidara in Bamako to boost $1 million from benefactors in Europe, the U.S., and the Center East to finance the rescue effort. Adds Diakité: “He feels as mighty responsibility for them as he does for his family.”

I first met Abdel Kader Haidara eight years ago, when I flew to Timbuktu to jot down relating to the country’s rediscovery of its literary heritage. The city’s production of manuscripts reached its apogee in the 15th and 16th centuries, when Timbuktu modified into as soon as a commercial hub on the Niger and a middle of academic overview with extra than 150 universities. Handed down by the generations by Timbuktu’s leading families, the volumes were in most cases locked away, forgotten, and accredited to crumple. UNESCO started drawing attention to the works in the 1960s, funding a nationwide library, the Ahmed Baba Institute, and scouring the location for misplaced works, alternatively it wasn’t unless Haidara modified into passionate about their conservation effort that the city’s literary renaissance started in earnest.

Haidara and I met up at his Mamma Haidara Library, a elegant limestone villa in the center of the veteran city, with the only real samples from his assortment displayed in vacuum-sealed glass cases in air-conditioned and successfully-lit rooms. By 2006, when I visited Haidara—an spectacular and ebullient decide who modified into as soon as clad that day in a beige skullcap and draped in a peacock-blue used dress in most cases known as a bubu—students and historians from all the procedure in which by Europe and the Center East were flocking to the Mamma Haidara to seem a assortment that offered perchance primarily the most revealing glimpses of what Timbuktu had been at the head of its glory.

Haidara took me all the procedure in which by the assortment. The manuscripts were sure in goatskin and handwritten in aloof calligraphy, with prospers of gold and pen-and-ink drawings of mosques and desolate tract landscapes. They incorporated accounts of the battles fought by medieval Malian kings and their armies; treatises on used tablets, Islamic jurisprudence, and arithmetic; volumes of romantic poetry; and Koranic overview, all testifying to the complex, intellectually not easy society that had flourished in Timbuktu for a full bunch of years, unless the Moroccan military invaded in the slack 16th century, sacked the city, and carried its students off to slavery in Fez.

No doubt one of primarily the most priceless manuscripts in Haidara’s assortment modified into as soon as a later work comprising goal staunch about a pages: an 1853 epistle by Sheikh al-Bakkay al-Kounti, a non secular leader in Timbuktu, to the ruling sultan of Masina, asking him to spare the lifetime of German explorer Heinrich Barth. The sultan had ordered Barth’s execution attributable to non-Muslims were barred from entering the city, but al-Bakkay argued that Islamic regulations forbade the killing. “He is a human being, and he has not made conflict against us,” al-Bakkay wrote. Barth remained below the protection of al-Bakkay and made it relief to Germany unharmed. “The manuscripts expose that Islam is a faith of tolerance,” Haidara urged me that day, arguing that his assortment would lumber a protracted intention against breaking harmful perceptions in the West.

“Custodian of a Colossal Intellectual Custom”

Abdel Kader Haidara’s father, Mohammed Haidara, nicknamed Mamma, modified into as soon as born in the city of Bamba on the Niger in 1897, in the early years of French rule. A self-taught scholar, he accrued a sizable quantity of rare handwritten books.

“Since the 16th century our ancestors had been buying manuscripts,” Haidara urged me. “They’d built up a library in Bamba, and my father added to it. He traveled in each put Africa, bringing relief manuscripts from Chad, Sudan, and Egypt.” He furthermore helped augment the manuscript assortment of the Ahmed Baba Institute, created by UNESCO in 1967 with the target of maintaining the location’s successfully off written historical previous.

In 1981, Mohammed Haidara died at the age of 84. The director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, Muhammed Zubair, requested Abdel Kader, who modified into as soon as then 17, to replace his father as head collector. Haidara urged him he wasn’t enthusiastic. “I desired to enter commercial and intention money, not work in a library,” he says. The director kept pursuing him. “He stated, ‘Here’s your work, right here is your future. You have confidence bought a big responsibility. You is most likely to be the custodian of a big mental tradition.'”

After months of prodding, Haidara dropped his plans for a commercial occupation and started intensive practising, learning the whole lot from conservation strategies to easy how to assess the monetary fee of individual works. Soon he modified into as soon as twisted.

“When I modified into as soon as at the Ahmed Baba Institute, I had an suppose of business that modified into as soon as full of manuscripts. When I modified into as soon as home, manuscripts surrounded me. My pals urged me, ‘You have confidence gone loopy. You would possibly presumably perchance also’t narrate about something else but these manuscripts.’ They’d this smell, the manuscripts, and so that they stated, ‘You are smelling of manuscripts, Abdel Kader.’ I stated, ‘Tear away me by myself, goal staunch lumber away me to it.'”

Haidara started knocking on the doors of families in Timbuktu, attempting to persuade them to bring their manuscripts out of hiding. Resistance modified into as soon as intense. Many families were so unnerved, after a century of French pillaging, that they refused even to narrate about the mumble. “Little by small, I sensitized of us to the conservation work the library modified into as soon as doing,” he says.

Then he traveled by motorized dugout canoe alongside the Niger and by camel caravan all the procedure in which by the Sahara, visiting chiefs and family librarians in distant villages. “Other folks would suppose, ‘The manuscripts are for us, and so that they don’t lumber away our presence. What attain it is advisable to realize with them?’ And I would indicate, ‘I are attempting to seize them to Timbuktu. There is a middle there; they’ll preserve them, expose them, and put them in lawful condition. They is also there for all and sundry, the total world to piece and deem.'”

When the artwork of persuasion failed, Haidara tried playing on responsible consciences, pointing out the appalling neglect that many of the books had suffered: water damage, termite infestations. Within the head, he resorted to cash. He carried around a suitcase paunchy of cash, which he disbursed lavishly—building mosques and colleges; buying cows, camels, and goats for collectors and village chiefs. After a decade of near-ceaseless trip, Haidara managed to grow the Ahmed Baba’s manuscript assortment to extra than 20,000 works.

Keeping Mali’s Heritage

In 1993, Haidara quit his job at the Ahmed Baba Institute and went out on his possess, attempting to boost funds to home the family archive. A breakthrough appeared drawing near near in 1996, when he obtained a name from the Libyan authorities, promising him “assistance.” Weeks later a delegation dispatched by Muammar Qaddafi showed up at his home, pored by the Mamma Haidara assortment—and offered to come to a decision on the whole lot on the gap and seize it all relief to Tripoli.

“They stated, ‘We favor the whole lot we deem right here, even the trunks. We are in a position to pay you in any currency you wish. Appropriate title your tag.'” Haidara insisted that he wasn’t even tempted. “They couldn’t give it some belief,” he says. “They requested, ‘Why not?’ I stated, ‘On yarn of this will not be for me. Here’s the heritage of Mali, of a big nation. Or not it’s far not on the market.'”

The actual breakthrough came rapidly in a while, when Professor Gates stopped in Timbuktu whereas making a television documentary series about Africa. Haidara showed his manuscripts to the Harvard scholar, who had delved most bright lightly into the written historical previous of gloomy Africa.

“It modified into as soon as one in every of primarily the most transferring days of my lifestyles. I modified into as soon as tearing up on camera,” recalls Gates. “I modified into as soon as so emotional, preserving these books in my hands. I would belief they were a story at most bright, from the time I modified into as soon as a boy, learning Ripley’s Imagine It or No longer. But they were in point of truth proper.” Gates modified into as soon as furthermore impressed by Haidara, “this gleaming man, not extravagant or flamboyant, but deeply learned. He modified into as soon as riveting to interview.”

Gates helped secure a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, which allowed Haidara to secure browsing for family books and to assign a library to home them. The identical year Savama-DCI, a basis that Haidara established to encourage others with fetch entry to to family collections to have confidence a examine in his footsteps, obtained a $600,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to assign two fresh libraries in Timbuktu: the Al-Wangari and the Allimam Ben Essayouti. Dozens of numerous libraries have confidence sprung up in subsequent years.

Jihadist Takeover

Haidara modified into as soon as traveling in Burkina Faso when the Islamist and Tuareg rebels started their march against Timbuktu in slack March 2012. He arrived relief home goal staunch hours after the rebels seized the city. Overnight, Timbuktu modified into as soon as plunged staunch into a nightmare. The police, the military, and all authorities officials fled, at the side of thousands of usual citizens. Looters filled the streets, pulling cash out of banks, ripping aside stores, breaking into homes and resorts with impunity.

Then primarily the most predominant Islamist policemen began to seem, riding pickup trucks draped in gloomy jihadist flags.

First and foremost Haidara tried to behave as though nothing had took place. He went about his commercial and kept the library commence, avoiding any contact with the cool-eyed, bearded, Kalashnikov-toting jihadists who wandered the streets. “I did not narrate over with them, they by no intention known as me, they by no intention noticed me.”

But mercurial he realized that the radicals would soon seize undisputed energy, and after they did Haidara modified into as soon as obvious they would target the manuscripts. These books—scattered in 45 libraries all the procedure in which by the city, most of which Haidara had helped fetch built—epitomized the reasoned discourse and traditions of mental inquiry that the militants, with their inflexible views of Islam, their intolerance, and their hatred of modernity and rationality, desired to abolish.

A month into the jihadist takeover, Haidara and his nephew, Touré, started venturing into the markets of Timbuktu, buying up metal cantines, or trunks, and storing them at the Mamma Haidara and numerous libraries all the procedure in which by the city. After they’d bought each and all and sundry in Timbuktu, they learned extra in markets farther south; when these ran out, they bought metal oil drums and brought them to a craftsman in the river city of Mopti, and he hammered them into trunks.

Within the relief of locked doors, Haidara, Touré, and some numerous volunteers packed the manuscripts into the trunks. They labored in most cases by flashlight attributable to the jihadists had carve your whole energy. By July they managed to transport all 350,000 manuscripts from Timbuktu’s libraries to safe homes all the procedure in which by the city, owned by the relatives of library dwelling owners.

Haidara fled Timbuktu for Bamako in May maybe also goal, to coordinate the fund-elevating campaign and to position the brakes on UNESCO delegates in Mali who desired to publicize the jihadist menace. Haidara feared that such attention would alert Timbuktu’s occupiers to the manuscripts’ fee. “I stated, ‘I judge that intellectual now, goal staunch cease restful. Don’t attain something else. Don’t narrate about them.’ UNESCO stated, ‘OK, you are intellectual. We are going to lumber away it.'”

Haidara’s wife, Khadija, and their six young of us—including a son who modified into as soon as born prematurely and can’t stand or narrate—joined him in Bamako two months later. (Haidara has a second wife, not an queer bid in Mali, furthermore named Khadija, who is a excessive-rating Malian diplomat primarily primarily based in Paris.)

Held in a Squalid Penal complex

By September, the news modified into as soon as turning into grim: Salafists had burned a library near Tripoli and destroyed a full bunch of manuscripts; at relating to the identical time, radicals in Timbuktu had embarked on a brutal campaign to abolish the tombs of the city’s revered Sufi saints, breaking the tombs aside with pickaxes. When Haidara bought the notice that the militants—feeling stronger and extra confident—had eradicated checkpoints all the procedure in which by northern Mali, he gave the orders to his operatives to commence up transferring the manuscripts from Timbuktu’s safe homes to Bamako.

Between September and January, couriers made a full bunch of journeys between the 2 cities in rented 4x4s, most regularly carrying two or three cantines of manuscripts on each and every trip. The journeys seldom went smoothly: On his first trip south, Mohammed Touré modified into as soon as stopped half a dozen cases at Malian authorities checkpoints. Troopers harassed him, breaking the locks off his trunks and rifling by the works. His automobiles broke down twice; his driver bought misplaced en route.

After per week on the road, he reached Bamako, where he modified into as soon as rearrested and held in a squalid penal complex. “Abdel Kader arrived, needed to pay a couple of cash, and we were in the end liberated, with the manuscripts,” he says. “You did not have confidence any preference but to proceed. You needed to secure working. It bought goal a small simpler over time. I made this trip in most cases. I paid them off many cases—the soldiers, the police—and so that they bought to know me, and it modified into simpler.”

Weeks sooner than the French militia arrived in Mali, AQIM closed all roads resulting in the south, forcing Haidara to resort to devise B: organizing dozens of boats to lift the manuscripts down the Niger. By the head of February 2013, Haidara had succeeded in evacuating almost about each and every manuscript from 45 libraries to security. The most bright casualties: 4,200 manuscripts that were burned to ashes in a bonfire location by militants at the Ahmed Baba Institute goal staunch minutes sooner than the militants fled the city sooner than the French invasion.

“I am The full Time Surrounded by Awe”

I caught up with Haidara one closing time in mid-February 2014, on the head floor of a four-account condominium building in the Baco Djikironi Golf neighborhood of Bamako. Haidara had transported dozens of chests to this newly obtained safe home all the procedure in which by the wet season that had ended the outdated month, and he modified into as soon as checking to deem how successfully the manuscripts were preserving up.

“We were obliged to search out homes that were raised off the ground, with air-conditioning or dehumidifiers to better withhold them,” he defined, thumbing by a 500-year-veteran work from Timbuktu’s Sankoré Library, its yellowing pages sure by a dejected-brown goatskin quilt. The book modified into as soon as a roughly medieval Encyclopaedia Britannica, Haidara stated, chronicling the lives of Islamic students, broken into short biographical sections with aloof prospers, equivalent to green, red, and gold embossed letters marking the starting put of every and every fresh allotment. Scribblings by many numerous hands filled the margins, presumably added by students at Sankoré who consulted this work for his or her possess overview by the ages. “Or not it’s glaring that it’s the biggest work,” he urged me. “Or not it’s from the 16th century, and it’s tranquil readable, and it’s full of statements that presentations it has been consulted by many intellectuals. That offers it a big fee.”

Haidara had anticipated to escort your whole manuscripts relief to Timbuktu by now, but persevering with instability in the north had made that not doable. (At some stage in my visit to Timbuktu in February, jihadists clashed with French Special Forces goal staunch north of Timbuktu and fired rockets at the city’s airport. Rapidly after my visit to Mali, French forces tracked down and killed Oumar Ould Hamaha, the AQIM fanatic who had arrested Touré on that evening in Timbuktu two years earlier.)

The persevering with suppose of limbo modified into as soon as taking a toll on Haidara: “I am your whole time surrounded by grief, by responsibility, in most cases I even omit my family,” he admitted. “My most bright ambition is to rehabilitate all these libraries in Timbuktu, so that I’m in a position to bring your whole manuscripts relief to each and every family that entrusted them to me. That can present me goal a small bit of peace.”

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting (http://pulitzercenter.org/) helped red meat up reporting for this account.

Attain you compromise with Haidara that feeble manuscripts have to tranquil be preserved for the sake of a full tradition?

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