A 51 year old book collector and librarian named Abdel Kader Haidara lives in the fabled city of Timbuktu, an ancient city in West Africa called Mali. In April of 2012 having returned home from a brief trip to Europe, he witnessed the envelopment of his city from al-Qaeda and its African affiliates throughout the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); panicked knowing the cities libraries would soon be plundered he grabbed the nearest phone and called The Ford Foundation in Nigeria. The game was on to rescue Islamic manuscripts from an ever encroaching black flag.
The Ford Foundation knew of Mr. Haidara because of a grant he was given to pursue studies at Oxford, he called pleading that the committee find a way to transfer that money for the purchasing of empty oil barrels, donkeys, carts and petty cash.
Three days later, the monies flowed and Haidara was off, secretly finding trustworthy fellow travelers in secretly identifying the manuscripts, packaging them for release. . .
The goal was to disperse all 400,000 manuscripts. . .
Metal and wooden trunks, empty oil barrels and carts arrived at nearly 80 a day, packed tight and released to strangers. . .
In the course of 8 months, his Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and other were empty. . .
The smuggling was enormous, quiet and ruthlessly efficient.
By January of 2013, upon the arrival of French troops in Mali, the smuggling operation was over. . . And the process of return completed with national honor.
Read The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, by Joshua Hammer, out by Simon & Schuster
For Further Reading:
THE MAMMA HAIDARA MEMORIAL LIBRARY
NPR INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: THE BRAVE SAGE OF TIMBUKTU
WSJ: SAVING CULTURAL TREASURES
THE 2014 AFRICA PRIZE
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW