Mali / The heavy economic and political crisis, which is the outcome of a troubled history, over the last year has been transformed into a conflict that neither the state nor the international community appears to be able to curb. And this while hate also falls on a heritage of Islamic architecture and art that is under attack by violent Islamist groups.
Since 2012 Mali – an immense country located in the heart of western Africa – has been undergoing the severe trial of a heavy political and humanitarian crisis that was set in motion by the umpteenth Tuareg rebellion in the northern region of Azawad. The intrusion of Islamist groups transformed this simple insurrection for the autonomy of Azawad into an uncontrollable conflict which neither the authorities of Mali nor international institutions have hitherto been able to curb. The cities of Timbuktu and Gao, which belong to the world heritage list of UNESCO, were the first to be touched by a crisis whose consequences, first of all of a humanitarian character and then of a cultural one, have been disastrous. Before speaking about the threats to which the populations and the heritage of the cities of northern Mali are exposed, I will go back to the salient stages of the history of this country in order to understand its current circumstances.
Mali has a rich and ancient history which came down to us by oral tradition and then, since the eleventh century, by the tales of such Arab travellers as the Moroccan Ibn Battuta, Hasan al-Wazzân al-Zayyâtî, known as Leo Africanus (1488-1548) and, in the modern period, by European explorers such as Alexander Gordon Laing (1793-1826) and René Caillé (1799-1838). Three principal empires succeeded each other in this region which is between the Sahara south of the Maghreb, present-day Senegal, Lake Chad and the Niger Bend.