If your attitude toward Mali is "Who cares," consider this image:
Malian scholars, librarians and citizens in Timbuktu, the fabled desert trading town overrun by rebels this month, are protecting priceless ancient manuscripts to prevent them from being damaged or looted. ...
"I have no faith in the rebels. They may have an educated leadership, but they are sending in foot soldiers who are illiterate and if they want something they will take it ... They won't have any respect for paper culture," Prof Jeppie said.
He said since the rebel occupation, fighters had stolen vehicles from the Ahmed Baba Institute, the Malian state library that houses more than 20,000 ancient scholarly manuscripts. The library is named after Ahmad Baba Al Massufi, who died in 1627 and is regarded as Timbuktu's greatest scholar.
But the fighters did not enter the rooms and underground vaults where the priceless texts were stored at the library's new South African-funded building.
"The new building was defended by the public ... they stood in front of the gates," Prof Jeppie said.
And what is in that library?
Brittle, written in ornate calligraphy, and ranging from scholarly treatises to old commercial invoices, the documents represent a compendium of learning on everything from law, sciences and medicine to history and politics.
An online exhibition, here.
The New York Times wrote about the efforts to preserve these manuscripts in 2007:
Ismaël Diadié Haïdara held a treasure in his slender fingers that has somehow endured through 11 generations — a square of battered leather enclosing a history of the two branches of his family, one side reaching back to the Visigoths in Spain and the other to the ancient origins of the Songhai emperors who ruled this city at its zenith.
“This is our family’s story,” he said, carefully leafing through the unbound pages. “It was written in 1519.”
The musty collection of fragile, crumbling pages, written in the florid Arabic script of the sixteenth century, is also this once forgotten outpost’s future.
A surge of interest in ancient books, hidden for centuries in houses along Timbuktu’s dusty streets and in leather trunks in nomad camps, is raising hopes that Timbuktu — a city whose name has become a staccato synonym for nowhere — may once again claim a place at the intellectual heart of Africa.
“I am a historian,” Mr. Haïdara said. “I know from my research that great cities seldom get a second chance. Yet here we have a second chance because we held on to our past.”
This ancient city, a prisoner of the relentless sands of the Sahara and a changing world that prized access to the sea over the grooves worn by camel hooves across the dunes, is on the verge of a renaissance.