In many ways, Timbuktu, especially during its height in the 16th century, represents an example of a “knowledge society”, one actively engaged in the pursuit of knowledge production and application. However, Timbuktu was but one centre of its kind on the continent.
Despite this rich history on the continent of centres of high intellectual repute, of places of learning and intellectual inquiry, Africa has in modern times falsely been represented as devoid of the practices of reading and writing. It has been, and still is, erroneously characterised as only or largely a continent of oral communication, despite all the historical evidence to the contrary. The vast collections of manuscripts and papers that still remain in Timbuktu decisively confound this view. The Timbuktu manuscripts and those from the surrounding settlements are testimony to an undeniable history of scientific inquiry, the writing of poetry, intellectual discourse and philosophical reflection. They unambiguously demonstrate the sophisticated use of a wide diversity of Africa’s languages in high-level intellectual pursuits which is the mark of African peoples’ capacities to express themselves in complex forms and of African intellectual capabilities over the centuries. Intellectual and scholarly endeavours have been an integral part of African history since the development of writing on the continent.  
 
Every experience of renaissance, such as that in Europe before the 16th century and Bengal in the 19th century, was rooted in a critical appropriation of the past and conversations across boundaries in the present. This is the meaning of “rebirth” (re-naissance). Clearly then the challenge is to correct the suppressed history of writing and reading on the continent. To remake our continent we have to look back deeply and reclaim the many pasts that have been denied and hidden from us as a result of Eurocentric perspectives, colonial racism and racial domination. As part of our own process of critical appropriation in the cause of the African Renaissance, we have to begin to think continentally and embrace positively our own African history and heritage, not least of which is our history and heritage of, knowledge production and knowledge application.
 
The African heritage of reading and writing is our heritage. The manuscripts of Timbuktu are our heritage. Indeed they are part of our common human and African patrimony.
 
“We are Africans”, we should all say, for what we truly love is our heritage
 
 
Another example is Abbyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), which too developed a similar reputation, albeit in a different period of history. Moreover, throughout the northern parts of the continent, across the Sahara, and along the whole of Sudanic Africa - from Senegal to Ethiopia - and down the East African coast as far as Northern Moçambique we can find rich and copious examples of Africans engaged in reading and writing as far back as the earlier centuries of the previous millennium.