Appeal by specialized organisations and heritage professionals
to safeguard Mali's cultural heritage
All specialized agencies and heritage professionals join the School for African Heritage (EPA - Ecole du Patrimoine Africain) in sending out this appeal: a heartfelt plea in view of the urgency to protect the cultural heritage of Mali, which is the heritage of Africa and of all humanity. The call comes following the severe crisis which, since 24 March 2012, has affected the north of the Republic of Mali with the presence of the MNLA forces, Ansar ad-Din, AQIM and other armed fundamentalists, bringing about a tragic situation that makes us fear the worst for the future of the cultural heritage of Mali, a country known for its ancient civilization.
The recent desecrations (two mausoleums of Saints at Timbuktu, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, on Friday 4 May, perpetrated by the fundamentalist group, Ansar ad-Din), as well as serious threats to all cultural assets in the north, confirm the fear by specialized heritage agencies and professionals. With great concern for the tragic situation of Mali's heritage, we come together to denounce and condemn these acts with utmost resolution.
It should be remembered that Mali has an extremely rich and varied cultural heritage, which is eloquent proof of the African contribution to world civilization. Evidence of this includes the many ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu (intellectual and spiritual capital and centre of the spread of Islam throughout Africa in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries), the famous earthen buildings and structures of ancient cities, terracotta of the Inner Niger Delta: all examples of secular traditions that have shaped the history of the great empires from the Sahel to the savannah. Today, Mali has four sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List: the ancient city of Djenné (1988); Timbuktu (1988); the Bandiagara cliffs, Dogon Country (1989); and the Tomb of Askia, Gao (2004). There are also six examples of intangible heritage inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, namely: the Cultural space of the Yaaral and Degal (2008); Septennial re-roofing ceremony of the Kamablon, sacred house of Kangaba (2009); Manden Charter, proclaimed in Kurukan Fuga (2009); the "Sanké mon" rite of collective fishing in Sanké (2009); Cultural practices and expressions related to the balafon (xylophone) of the Sénoufo communities of Mali and Burkina Faso (2011) and the Secret society of the Kôrêdugaw, the rite of wisdom in Mali (2011).
Many more recent markers and heritage sites such museums, monuments, memorials, conservatories, cultural centres and spaces are all indicators that testify to the cultural and intellectual dynamism of Mali today, sadly facing the double menace of intolerance, and looting and illicit traffic of cultural property.
There is also a serious humanitarian crisis, which manifests itself in the massive displacement of populations, especially from the North towards the interior as well as to border countries, in extremely difficult conditions racked with insecurity and humiliation. As of 05 April, 2012, the number of people displaced – the majority of whom are women and children – was estimated at more than 235,000 according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Along with a country's cultural heritage, its most precious assets are its people, especially the youth.
The threats to security, economy and identity generated by this tragic situation, and the collateral effects, are also part of more global geopolitical context that could permanently destabilize the entire Sahel region and beyond.
Faced with this disastrous state of affairs, this appeal is intended as a unique opportunity to establish a network for advocacy and pressure, to inform and raise awareness nationally and internationally.
To this end, the implementation of international conventions for the protection of cultural, natural and intangible heritage, depends on the international community, including UNESCO and other international and regional institutions in charge of heritage, to act quickly; threats and damage to property should be assessed, and professional meetings should be organised to address this issue. These think tanks would find substantial support in the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict adopted at The Hague in 1954; the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage; the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property - 1970 and the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage – 2003.
Our appeal is also directed to all political and administrative authorities as well as the National Army of the Republic of Mali, so that the best interest of the Malian nation takes precedence in ensuring a sustained process for a return to constitutional order and normalization in the north. This appeal also invites all players in the field to strictly ensure the preservation, integrity and security of cultural goods and people in all their dimensions and components, especially crisis areas in Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and elsewhere in Mali.
Finally, we ask Mali's neighbouring countries, whose hospitality and African solidarity we count on, to prevent the illicit transfer of objects and works of art from Mali through efficient customs and police controls at their borders.
Porto-Novo, 23 May 2012