What Mali is doing to protect its cultural heritage

Mali Artifact
Roderick McIntosh
Example of an object covered by the agreement

In response to the widespread damage caused by looting, the government of Mali took action to protect its cultural patrimony with a series of laws and decrees passed between 1985 and 1987. These statutes aim to protect and promote the cultural heritage of Mali, regulate excavations, and control the export and commercialization of cultural property. Included in these laws is a provision which states artifacts leaving the country must be accompanied by an export license from the Cultural Heritage Services at the National Museum in Bamako. Mali also ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention in 1987, showing its support in regulating the traffic of illicit artifacts worldwide. In addition to this legislation, the government of Mali has striven to educate its officials and the general public, raising awareness of the looting problem.

Programs focused at the local level have utilized radio, television, meetings, traveling exhibitions, and even staged plays to get the message across and encourage involvement (Sidibé 2001). Cultural missions were established at Djenné, Bandiagara, and Timbuktu in 1993. In some areas, the success of these efforts has turned would-be looters into custodians of cultural heritage—villagers are founding museums and working to protect and preserve Mali’s archaeological treasures in the Mopti region and near Djenné-Jeno (Sidibé, 2001). On a larger scale, the National Museum of Mali at Bamako has made outstanding efforts to protect cultural property and to advance an understanding of history—not just for Mali, but for Africa as a whole.

Just last year the museum was presented with the Prince Claus Fund Award for promoting cultural heritage and cultural exchange. The country also participated in workshops organized by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in Arusha, Bamako, and Kinshasa. Museum professionals, law enforcement officers, customs officials, archaeologists, and other professionals all collaborated at these workshops in order to reach a better understanding between countries of import and export.

-Claire Hilmer, SAFE Volunteer