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The incunabula of African intellectualism and civilization: some reflections on the preservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts

F Garaba


A conference on Archives of Post-independence Africa and its Diaspora was held from June 20-23, 2012 in Dakar, Senegal. This conference was organized by the Council for the Devel-opment of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), the African Studies Centre, Lei-den (ASC) and the University of California African Studies Multi-campus Research Group (MRG). This English-French bilingual conference was attended by a wide range of academ-ics, archivists, librarians, public intellectuals and artists from the African continent, Europe, North America and beyond. One of the conference‟s thematic area centred on issue of ad-ministering the archive especially in view of the challenges faced by the archives on the Afri-can continent in relation to the digital revolution and political instability. The conference ex-pressed concern at the growing political instability in Mali which threatens the Timbuktu manuscripts. Historians, academics and archivists bemoaned Mali‟s failed state and chroni-cled their experiences as they catalogued the on-going destruction of this valuable heritage. Because of the instability, this “tin-trunk literacy” was being transferred from official deposi-tories and finding its way into the basements of individual households where it had previ-ously been housed for centuries. The cycle of archiving and re-archiving at private or per-sonal level as evidenced in Mali points to the need to depoliticise the archive. The fact that the Timbuktu manuscripts have survived for centuries in those household basements, in storerooms and garages for example, is a strong African archival tradition that deserves spe-cial commendation considering that modern archives are mainly Western in conception. On the other hand, the efforts made by the South African Government to preserve this Tim-buktu heritage are applaudable but the deplorable state of its archives at both state and pro-vincial levels raises eyebrows as it appears this was political expediency with the so-called Af-rican Renaissance concept.

Keywords: Timbuktu manuscripts, digitization, archiving, preservation, African Renaissance

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print ISSN: 1012-2796