Press Releases

Press Release, 06/11/2014

Gerda Henkel Foundation intensifies commitment to Africa and supports campaign to save manuscripts from Timbuktu

International strategy meeting with German Federal Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on 18/19 June in Berlin

In late 2012/early 2013 around 285,000 valuable manuscripts from Timbuktu (Mali) were saved from imminent destruction by radical Islamist rebels. In a relief action lasting several months under the leadership of Dr Abdel Kader Haïdara, Director of one of Timbuktu’s largest libraries, the manuscripts, which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage, were saved. Since then experts on handwritten manuscripts from Mali and Hamburg have together been taking immediate measures in the Malian capital Bamako to preserve and restore the documents and make them permanently available for research. The Foreign Office, international state and private funding institutions, and the Gerda Henkel Foundation are all supporting the initiative. On 18 and 19 June the Foreign Office will be hosting a meeting in Berlin, supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation. The international strategy meeting aims to ensure the preservation of the handwritten manuscripts in the future, too, and coordinate further measures to protect cultural heritage.

“These manuscripts are an irreplaceable testimony to the rich literary tradition of West Africa and are among the region’s most important cultural assets. I am delighted that Germany is able to render a contribution to protecting and preserving these cultural assets,” said Federal Foreign Minister Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Dr Michael Hanssler, Chairman of the Board of the Gerda Henkel Foundation, added: “It is true that in the last 25 years a great number of Malian and international institutes have pointed to the Timbuktu manuscripts, but it is only now that their incredible value for the entire region is becoming apparent.”

For the Gerda Henkel Foundation the cooperative project is part of an intensified commitment to Africa. In the past five years the foundation has provided more than 3.2 million euros for projects relating to Africa’s past and present. They range from a study on the CNDP and M23 rebel movements in North Kivu, Congo, to a scientific project on the conflicts surrounding natural resources in Zimbabwe (entitled “Your elephant destroyed my crops”). A further research project on manuscript cultures in Timbuktu is based at the University of Cape Town. Using the example of the Timbuktu manuscripts, a team from the Institute for the Humanities in Africa is studying the connection between a culture of handwritten manuscripts and civil society in the Muslim Sahel Zone and the Sahara.

Journalists can register to attend the meeting on 18 June at the Foreign Office Press Service (Werderscher Markt 1, 10117 Berlin, email:; tel.: +49-30-5000-2056/-2059). The event begins at 5 p.m. (doors open from 4.30 p.m.).

Foreign Office Press Service
Werderscher Markt 1, 10117 Berlin
Tel.: +49-30-5000-2056/-2059, email:

Gerda Henkel Foundation, Press Office, Dr Sybille Wüstemann
Malkastenstrasse 15, 40211 Düsseldorf,
Tel.: +49-211-93 65 24-19, email:

Gerda Henkel Foundation
The Gerda Henkel Foundation is a private, non-profit organization independent of the present-day Henkel AG & Co. KGaA and headquartered in Düsseldorf. It is dedicated to promoting the humanities, particularly the historical sciences, archaeology, art history and historical subdisciplines. The foundation is active in Germany and internationally. This spring the Gerda Henkel Foundation provided some 2.5 million euros for a scholarship programme supporting young humanities scholars from Africa and Southeast Asia. With this programme the Gerda Henkel Foundation wishes to remember its founder Lisa Maskell (1914–1998), who would have turned 100 on 30 April. Since its establishment the Gerda Henkel Foundation has supported some 6,000 research projects worldwide with over 120 million euros.