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A short film narrated by Morgan Freeman

For centuries Timbuktu was a symbol of world-renowned scholarship, innovation, plurality, and tolerance – a city where the fertile banks of Niger River meets the Sahara Desert.

But in 2012, an al-Qaeda linked terrorist organization invaded and occupied this fabled city, humiliating the people, oppressing women and banning books, sports and education. The extremists even silenced the music, the very heart and soul of a country known as the birthplace of the Blues. Timbuktu and its surroundings are yet another casualty of the cancerous spread of violent extremism.

This story of Timbuktu is not one of defeat. Rather, it is one of rebirth and hope. Take a journey to Timbuktu in this short film and learn how a proud and determined society is countering the spread of violent extremism using its deeply rooted cultural legacy to inspire the world.


The Music

You’ve already heard the music of Timbuktu… you just may not realize it.

After all, it was here in this part of western Africa that musicians and griots (traditional storytellers and poets) created a sound so powerful it traveled from the Niger Delta to the Mississippi Delta… to the entire world. Today, we know this music as the Blues.

This musical heritage was celebrated yearly at the renowned Festival au Désert. Drawing fans from around the world, African musicians shared the stage with rock legends like Bono, Robert Plant, Damon Albarn and Jimmy Buffet. But due to the 2012 crisis, the Festival au Désert became a touring Festival-in-Exile – an international loudspeaker for a message of tolerance, development and resilience in Mali and around the world. The message grew louder with every additional supporter, flourishing into a movement that became mission for a renaissance in Timbuktu.


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Over 1,000 years ago, as Timbuktu grew into a bustling Saharan trade-hub of gold, grain, livestock, and salt, it also became Africa’s capital of something much more valuable: knowledge.

It was here in Timbuktu that one of the world’s most grand universities came to be – as well as an astonishing written record of intellectual achievement. These hundreds of thousands of manuscripts cover centuries of medicine, theology, philosophy, astronomy, poetry, literature and jurisprudence, on par with the Italian Renaissance.

During the occupation, extremists attempted to loot and destroy the priceless manuscript libraries and impose a perverse version of Islam. Timbuktu Renaissance has joined forces to preserve and digitized the manuscripts, as well as lay the groundwork for the rebirth of the famed University in Timbuktu. Standing as a permanent center of enlightenment, the University's motto will be: "Light is my will."



Timbuktu has long been considered the birthplace of the Blues.


Agriculture and Natural resources

The Mali Empire was one of the most prosperous kingdoms in history. In fact, one of its rulers – Mansa Moussa – is considered by experts as the richest person in history. The gold was the stuff of legend. Less glamorous but equally important was agriculture and livestock.

Today, agriculture is one of the most important sectors in Mali, providing livelihoods for 80% of the population. With a convergence of rivers, groundwater, sunlight, indigenous phosphates & fertilizers and abundant land, Mali – despite a harsh and changing climate – still has the potential to contribute to global food security.

Timbuktu Renaissance supports the modernizing of Mali’s agriculture and natural resource sectors in the face of challenging demographic and environmental pressures, as a crucial component of creating jobs and promoting peace and prosperity in the region.



More information about the Timbuktu Renaissance is available in this Brookings Institution article: The Timbuktu Renaissance

Tourism, Arts and Crafts

Stunning landscapes, wildlife, rivers, mountains, savanna and desert. Historic buildings and antiquity. Intricate, exotic art. Beautiful music. There are many reasons Mali should be a destination for tourists from across the globe. But the insecurity has prompted Western governments to declare Timbuktu and much of Sahel and Sahara off limits.

Laying the groundwork for a revival of the tourism industry is a top priority for Timbuktu Renaissance. By reestablishing the Festival au Désert, empowering local efforts to restore and protect UNESCO World Heritage sites, supporting the digitization, translation, and study of thousands of priceless manuscripts, and the creation of a modern cultural and innovation center in the heart of Timbuktu are key parts of the strategy.

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