All The Way To Timbuktu


Timbuktu is a name synonymous with the most distant place imaginable. Unfortunately its evocative name has most recently been linked to tragedy. In April 2012, Timbuktu—a historic and prominent center for Islamic scholars and study since the 12th Century—was captured by radical Islamist rebels who began implementing their own version of sharia law. The rebels began destroying the fragile historic monuments and shrines associated with the three Mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia that earned Timbuktu its UNESCO World Heritage status.

The shrines were targeted on the basis that these represented examples of idolatry—a sin in Islam. During the onslaught, local scholars risked their lives to smuggle ancient Islamic manuscripts out of Timbuktu and down the Niger River to safety. In January 2013 French and Malian troops retook the town and it is now under Malian Government control.


Earlier this month, I was fortunate to spend a day in this remote town in the hinterlands of Mali and I was anxious to see how Timbuktu weathered its most recent assault. Signs of destruction abound in this historic town, but life has returned to its streets.

Buildings which are to be reconstructed have been cleared of unexploded munitions (hence the building marked “clear”) and others await the start of reconstruction, like one of the buildings of the bibliotheque.

To keep things moving forward, international forces, including these police from Nigeria, now help the Malian authorities to ensure security and build local confidence. During a day spent in the town, I was struck by the industry of the Malians in rebuilding their town and their lives. The return of security means that the residents of Timbuktu can restart commercial and social activities, although the resumption of tourism seems some way off.