Rebuilding Timbuktu's Cultural Diversity, One eReader at a Time

Digital Content

Mali's Timbuktu region has long been a commercial and cultural crossroad. Songhai, Peul, Sorko, Tuareg, Bellah, Kunta, and Bérabich are longtime neighbors along the Niger River. The relationship between these cities has been under pressure since Mali's 2012-2013 civil war unleashed ethnic and religious tensions between the country's minorities. Several local NGOs are now hard at work, launching projects to help rebuild Mali's social cohesion and restore peace. This is the story of one of these projects, Living Together (“Vivre ensemble”), and its efforts in Timbuktu.

Living Together is a book club by PAT-MALI (the Program to Support the Transition in Mali), which promotes a culture of tolerance and freedom at Timbuktu's secondary schools. In late November, Living Together gathered 32 teachers from various disciplines for a training workshop about how to set up book clubs in high schools. The project hopes to procure 320 eReaders for teachers and book-club members.

Considerable time and effort went into this project. There are about 4,000 ebooks dowloaded onto every donated e-reader.

Zineb Benalla was the team leader for most of the training workshops in Timbuktu. She is a research associate at the Arab Institute for Scientific Research and Human Sciences in Rabat, Morocco.  

Teachers were delighted to receive the eReaders, especially after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb demolished all the city's libraries between April 2012 and January 2013. (The French army eventually helped remove al-Qaeda from the region.)

Using eReaders could lead to curious reforms in local education, possibly curbing teachers’ notorious “red pen” methods of covering text in criticism and revisions. With eReaders, some expect teachers to do more “facilitating” and “thematic leading” than before, hopefully promoting more discussion among students.

Given the city's rich cultural history and the oppressive regime it endured from 2012 to 2013, these workshops could prove to be a catharsis for many residents, still living with the trauma of Timbuktu under al-Qaeda.

Source: Global Voices Online 8 December 2014