Rail Band – Duga
“Your work is a lesson in tolerance, dialogue and peace… it is an answer to all extremists whose echo can be heard well beyond the borders of Mali.”
For years now we have show how musicians in Mali have lent their voices and instruments to the resolution and discussion of many problems in Malian society – the conflict, ebola and the treacherous migration to a life in Europe all being some of the topics analysed, interpreted and presented through music. This is all with a distinctly nod to a growing, and lucrative, international audience. On the home front, its time for the masons to lead the charge against intolerance. The quote above is from UNESCO’s Irina Bokova, who paid tribute to the year-long work of 140 highly-skilled Malian masons in restoring the tombs and mausoleums of Timbuktu. 14 of the 16 World Heritage Sites were destroyed by extremists during the 2012/13 conflict, with the armed insurgent group claiming their contents were idolatrous – including irreplacable manuscripts, all dating back to Timbuktu’s intellectual and spiritual golden age in the 15th/16th century.
Irina Bokova continued in interview to state that UNESCO had instructed the International Criminal Court to look into their destruction as a war crime, citing the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This is not a new idea as Bokova’s similar statements in 2012 encouraged a New York based law student to analyse how the legal scenario would play out. Perhaps the judicial process would only be thrilling to a legal eye, its implications however could be interesting to many.
As UNESCO recommends in a separate document, would the Malian army really prioritise in future the deployment of ‘special units’ of its army to protect ‘cultural property’ when it struggles to defend its borders and citizens? It could be an example of how a security situation can become globalised; where the demands of an intellectually engaged community across the world can influence the reordering of a society post-conflict with their own priorities. Though well intentioned, this can be based on perceived ‘losses’ during the conflict experienced from afar. The mausoleums and manuscripts are known by many world-wide and are considered world heritage. Its an issue we have discussed before and it gets pretty complex both legally and morally. I guess its worth watching this space till either the ICC or UNESCO provide greater detail on the charges, which remain unclear.
So hats off to the master masons of Timbuktu. Foreign funds have provided employment for reportedly 140 people in this project that will last up to 4 years. In the end, culture and history are important to any economic recovery too. Providing jobs and attracting tourists. Its been many decades since Timbuktu was a real destination for the adventurous, maybe even before the days of the famous Rail Band. Here’s to hoping that the excellent work of 140 locals is not in vain and a new golden age for the city is on the way soon.