International Conference Preserving Africa's Ancient Manuscripts

Article excerpt

Addis Ababa, 17-19 December 2010

Background

Aid Transparency successfully convened in Dakar (20-23 April, 2008) a regional meeting with relevant stakeholders (African librarians, conservators, researchers and decision takers) to prepare a regional Conference on Managing and Analyzing Africa's Ancient Manuscripts. This High Level Contact Group Meeting was attended by some of the most senior public and private managers of manuscripts as well as historians and Islamic scholars. Several important decisions were taken with regard to the setting up of an inter-institutional information exchange mechanism, the venue and date of the conference, the list of participants and specific panels and thematic areas as well as the anticipated publication of a book on ancient manuscripts in Africa.

West Africa is by far the largest reservoir of ancient 7th-19th century manuscripts in the Africa region. Most of these manuscripts are kept in disastrous conditions and need special care in the areas of conservation, microfilming, digitalization, cataloguing and content analysis. There is renewed interest from the part of Africana scholars and culturalists with regard to Africa's written treasures kept in closed family circles, mosques and Islamic centers. The convening of an international conference on the subject matter as well the publication of a landmark book on the conservation and analysis of ancient manuscripts in Africa will play a critical role for setting in motion a larger issue related to the preservation and promotion of Africa's cultural heritage and historical treasures. Until recently, the Timbuktu manuscripts were completely ignored at world level.

Thanks to several stakeholders' interest and The Ford Foundation's pioneering engagement in this field, many of these ancient manuscripts were systematically collected and catalogued while Timbuktu's main public and private libraries were empowered to build capacities in the areas of cataloguing, preservation, translation of Arabic material and restoration.

The International Conference on Preserving Ancient Manuscripts in Africa will bring together African and international senior librarians/information sciences managers, researchers, private and public managers of ancient manuscripts, knowledge industries, decision takers, civil society and international organizations.

This wide array of expertise will set itself the task of analyzing the most salient issues raised by Africa's ancient written treasures and historical records. In addition, it will suggest concrete solutions and set up mechanisms aimed at building professional and financial capacities of private libraries and closed family circles who are the keepers of most of the continent's ancient manuscripts. Several international gatherings have already called the international community's attention on the dismal state of Africa's written ancient manuscripts whether in the East Cost, the Sudanic-Sahelian area, the Chadian basin, the Maghreb in its diversity and a myriad kingdoms and empires scattered throughout one of the largest continents in the world.

Africa is the fountain source of the earliest and most complete types of writing systems and alphabets. It still retains several alphabets including newly created ones. Since the highest antiquity, African Pharaonic Egypt revolutionized humankind's evolution through the most startling inventions including elaborate hieroglyphs at least 5000 years old way before its appearance in other cultural cradles.

Africa's written treasures kept in adverse conditions are at present in great danger of being lost forever if bold action is not undertaken now to preserve ancient manuscripts, offer manuscripts keepers sustainable ways for generating income from their cultural treasures, taking appropriate legal steps to protect this cultural heritage and promote innovative ways for involving private and philanthropic institutions as well as the international community of donors and States. …