Timbuktu is an ancient city located in central Mali. Being an ancient place, Timbuktu and most places within it are historic and significant to the world. With the city itself being founded in the early 12th century, the city is also home to one of the worlds earliest universities – Sankore University. Sankore which was founded in 989 AD is a learning center home to the university itself, Djinguereber Mosque (built in 1327), and Sidi Yahya Mosque (built in 1440). In addition to a thriving university, Timbuktu was a major trade port, specializing in trading salt, ivory and gold throughout the world. Explorers would die trying to reach the intellectual vibrancy of the once called kingdom. But now, Timbuktu is a city on the edge of existence. In 2009, Timbuktu’s population was 54,453 but has dropped significantly to less than 15,000 people today. The ancient city in the nation of Mali is no longer a trade port. But what is the cause of Timbuktu’s fall over the past few years? War and violence, climate change and desertification, and human neglect have caused the city of Timbuktu to be facing extinction.
One major cause of Timbuktu’s fall is war and violence. Ever since 2012-13, Timbuktu has been occupied by secessionists and Islamists who have connections to Al-Qaida. The occupiers who came to bring law and order have committed acts ranging from increasing prices of goods, blocking traffic in and out of the city, to cutting people’s body parts off, and taking girls to prison and flogging and raping them. France unsuccessfully attempted intervention militarily, which also led to the United Nations stationing 1,200 helmeted peacekeepers to patrol the streets in the city of only 15,000 people. Once a thriving trade port in the world, Timbuktu is considered a dangerous place to travel to. Journalists are advised to be accompanied by the United Nations on trips to Timbuktu. No public flights are available for the Malian public to the now silent city, and the 600 mile drive to Timbuktu from Mali’s capital, Bamako, is deemed dangerous. UNESCO (organization for the UN) has placed Timbuktu on its list of sites in danger. Unfortunately, the violence in Timbuktu hasn’t ended, and a peace deal for Northern Mali has yet to be signed.
Climate change and the problems it brings is also a contributing factor to the fall of Timbuktu. As a city of sand and dry heat, the temperatures in Timbuktu can range from 68º to 108º Fahrenheit. Timbuktu has gone through desertification, which is where fertile land changes into desert. One of the effects of the desertification nowadays is that a canal transporting water to Timbuktu from the Niger River has dried up. People then tried digging holes to collect rainwater or the canals runoff water, but the wind the rain brought forced them to dig deeper and deeper until they just gave up. Although Mali has seen the worst rain it’s seen in half a century, it hasn’t benefited the people, for example, the people who tried to collect the rainwater. Instead, the rain washed away crops, bringing hunger to Timbuktu, and sets off explosives that rebels planted in towns and even homes. In addition to that, the Sahel Region (a region of countries in Africa including Mali and Timbuktu) is now regarded as the most vulnerable locations to climate change and desertification and is currently going through a drought.
Finally, many ancient historic manuscripts located in Mali were stolen and destroyed, which can also be a contributing factor to the human neglect of Timbuktu. In 2013, Islamist rebels who were retreating from Timbuktu set fire to a library that was home to thousands of priceless historic manuscripts. The mayor called the tragedy a ‘devastating blow’ to world heritage. In addition to the library, they also burned down the town hall, the governor’s office, an MP’s residence and shot and killed a man. Although French and Malian troops rushed to Timbuktu, they were too late to save the manuscripts and found them burned. The manuscripts were a part of both Malian heritage, and world heritage. While on an interview with Bamako (Mali’s capital), one man said by destroying them they threaten the world. This loss of historic information could also add to the human neglect of Timbuktu. Many people around the world are misinformed or just don’t know what Timbuktu is. They either think it’s a country, a city that is no longer one, or even a made up city. Also, a lot of people think Timbuktu is in the middle of nowhere, and have created a joke that people who travel might just randomly end up in Timbuktu. Already, people don’t know anything about Timbuktu or use it as a joke, which is a certain level of human neglect. Even though the library and the manuscripts being burned got a lot of attention, now people might not find anything interesting about Timbuktu anymore since the manuscripts that were ancient and had a lot of information about the world’s history are gone. That brings the human neglect level even higher.
Once one of the worlds most important, most significant cities, Timbuktu has unfortunately fallen to its knees facing the challenges of war and violence, climate change and desertification, and human neglect. Maybe, hopefully, Timbuktu might rise again, but until then, the remaining people living in Timbuktu will continue to live in these tough circumstances.
Al Qaeda Claims Timbuktu Attack Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
Al-Qaeda Documents Show Obsession with Keeping Receipts, down to a $0.60 Cake Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
Al-Qaeda-Linked Jihadist Group Claims Attack on UN Camp at Timbuktu. Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
“Bamako and Timbuktu on Map.” . Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
BBC News. Accessed 29 Mar. 2019.
The Defense Post. Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
Djinguereber Mosque Rehabilitation. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
Donkey Transport outside Timbuktu’s Wall’s. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed 29 Mar. 2019.
Harding, Luke. “Timbuktu Mayor: Mali Rebels Torched Library of Historic Manuscripts.” The Guardian, 28 Jan. 2013. Accessed 26 Mar. 2019.
Islamic Shrines Desecrated in Africa. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
Its Most Important Industry Was Gold. Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
Kane, Ousmane. “Timbuktu.” Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, edited by Richard C. Martin, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2016, pp. 1163-1165. Gale Virtual Reference Library,. Accessed 15 Mar. 2019.
Malian Islamist Faces War Crimes Judges over Timbuktu Destruction. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
The Mali-Based Al-Qaeda (AQ) Branch, Nusrat Al-Islam wal Muslimeen (NIM), Reportedly Claimed Credit for Five Attacks on Malian Soldiers and Forces within MINUSMA and Operation Barkhane in Mopti and Timbuktu. Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
A Man Attempts to Salvage Burnt Manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu, Mali. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
Many Timbuktu Manuscripts Smuggled to Safety before Islamists Destroyed Ahmed Baba Centre. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
“Map of the Sahel Region in Saharan Africa.” Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
Men Collect Water from One of Timbuktu’s Few Remaining Water Holes Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
Niger River: Everything You Need to Know about West Africa’s Longest River Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.
“Ok, Here Is the Joke.” Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
Residents Have Been Surveying the Damage Left behind by Militants. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
The River Loses Nearly Two-Thirds of Its Potential Flow. Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.
The Road to Timbuktu: A Town Sanded in Both Physically and Mentally Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
SA Opposes Burning of Ivory Stockpiles Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
Smith, Alex Duval. “Life in Timbuktu: How the Ancient City of Gold Is Slowly Turning to Dust.” The Guardian, 16 Sept. 2014,. Accessed 19 Mar. 2019.
Timbuktu before the Storm. Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
Timbuktu Calligrapher’s Rescue Mission Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.
Timbuktu-city in Northeastern Mali. Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
“Timbuktu Climate.” Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
“Timbuktu Looking West.” Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
“Transsaharan Trade and Timbuktu’s Economic Wealth.” Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
The University of Sankore Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
UN Peacekeepers Killed near Mali Capital in ‘Al-Qaeda-Style Attack Accessed 5 Apr. 2019.
View of Timbuktu Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.
What Really Happened to the Manuscripts. Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.
“Where Is Timbuktu.” Accessed 2 Apr. 2019.