Malian NGO scoops UNESCO/Jikji Memory of the World Prize

A Malian non-governmental organization, SAVAMA DCI, has emerged as the winner of the seventh edition of the UNESCO/Jikji Prize for Memory of the World, which is awarded biennially by the Republic of Korea’s Cheongju City and administered by UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector.

SAVAMA DCI, the Association for the Safeguarding and Promotion of Manuscripts for the Defense of Islamic Culture, received the prestigious award at a ceremony held on 1 October in the city of Cheongju in the Republic of Korea.

In congratulating the victor, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Moez Chakchouk, informed the guests invited for the award ceremony that the decision to give the prize to SAVAMA DCI was not an easy one.

He said: “The MoW Secretary received 30 strong entries from Africa, the Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and the Arab world.”

Despite the strong showing by the other contestants, Chakchouk went on to say, an independent jury unanimously agreed that SAVAMA DCI had demonstrated a remarkable record of accomplishment. The jury based its decision on three criteria, including:

  • The impact of the NGO’s work on preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage,
  • The unusual hardship it had endured in its work as a result of terrorist insurgency in Mali, and
  • The uniqueness of expertise it had demonstrated in mobilizing private owners of the Timbuktu manuscript towards the goal of preservation and accessibility.  

The Bureau of the International Advisory Committee (IAC) of the MoW Programme makes up the jury of the UNESCO/Jikji Prize, with technical input from its Sub-Committee on Technology (SCoT).
SAVAMA DCI’s achievements included:

  • The reconstruction and rehabilitation of more than 30 libraries of manuscripts;
  • The conservation of thousands of manuscripts in Mali;
  • Raising awareness and providing information about the manuscripts;
  • Training in techniques for the conservation and promotion of the manuscripts; and
  • Research on the content of such manuscripts.

Chakchouk concluded that the awarding of the prize to SAVAMA DCI demonstrated the growing importance of UNESCO’s MoW Programme as a vehicle for strengthening efforts in identifying, preserving and promoting access to documentary heritage, especially in Africa.

On hand to receive the prize were two representatives of SAVAMA DCI, Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, the NGO’s Executive President and Dr. Banzoumana Traoré, its Coordinator. Malian Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Ambassador Oumar Keita, accompanied the duo.

Dignitaries attending the ceremony from the Republic of Korea included:

  • Do Jong Hwan, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism,
  • Lee Si Jong, Governor of Chungcheongbuk-do Province,
  • Han Beum Deuk, Mayor of Cheongju,
  • Ha Jae Sung, Chairman of Cheongju City Council, and
  • Kim Soo Min, Member of the National Assembly.

UNESCO established the prize in 2004 to commemorate the inscription of Jikji -- the first book ever printed with movable metal type – on the MoW International Register. It aims to reward efforts contributing to the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage as a common heritage of humanity.

Since 2015, following the UNESCO General Conference’s adoption of the Recommendation concerning the preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage, including in digital form, the UNESCO/Jikji Prize has become a unique example of how the two pillars of this Recommendation – preservation and access – can be supported.

Through administering the Jikji Prize, UNESCO is able to demonstrate its commitment to safeguarding documentary heritage as well as promoting universal access to its enjoyment. More importantly, the Prize celebrates organizations and individuals who demonstrate innovation, courage and tenacity in protecting documentary heritage against all odds, including even in situations of international terrorism, as is the case in Mali, Iraq, Syria and other countries.