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Archives and national identity

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Archives and national identity: the African case
Nathan Mnjama

Archives without borders
August, 31st 2010
Peace Palace, The Hague

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Archives and national identity

  1. 1. ARCHIVES AND NATIONAL IDENTITY: THE AFRICAN CASE<br />By<br />Nathan Mnjama<br />Associate Professor<br />Department of Library and Information Studies,<br />University of Botswana<br />Email:  mnjamanm@mopipi.ub.bw<br />
  2. 2. Introduction<br />Human beings have a longing for belonging and identity.<br />Belonging brings a sense of pride and some form of accomplishment.<br />Belonging brings a sense of togetherness, shared values and aspirations.<br />Belongingness brings identification and makes us to be known as who we are.<br />
  3. 3. What is a nation?<br />a state, or country, that has defined borders and territory. <br />a country in which a nation of principally the same type of people exists, organized by either race or cultural background. <br />generally, everyone would speak the same language, probably practice the same or similar types of religion, and share a set of cultural, “national,” values.” (Ellis-Christensen, 2010) <br />
  4. 4. What is a nation? Cont. <br />is a group of people who feel themselves to be community bound together by ties of history, culture and common ancestry.” <br />“nations have ‘objectives’ characteristics which may include a territory, a language, a religion or a common descent.” (Kellas, 1998:3) <br />
  5. 5. European National Identity elements Checklist <br />founding fathers,<br />a history establishing the continuity of the nation through the ages,<br />a series of heroes embodying national values,<br />a language,<br />cultural and historical monuments,<br />
  6. 6. European National Identity elements Checklist cont.<br />realms of memory,<br />a typical landscape,<br />a folklore,<br />traditional costumes, <br />food and<br /> emblematic animal (Rasmussen, 2001) <br />
  7. 7. Nations as Changing entities<br />Nations are constantly evolving and changing - they are "imagined communities", and they are constantly re-imagining themselves.<br />New nations are eternally coming into being while others are declining. <br />New "subcultures", artifacts of modern communications technology, come into being - and every one of these has the potential to evolve into an actual nation.” (Rasmussen, 2001) <br />
  8. 8. The African situation<br />Western concept of nation is rather problematic.<br />Many of the nation states are a creation of colonial powers largely Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Belgium; and to a lesser extent Italy and Spain<br /> they are therefore “multi-tribal in character, since tribal identities and loyalties are still more important to most of their citizens than national identities and loyalties.” (Birch, 1989:25-26) <br />
  9. 9. The African Situation<br />Some tribal groupings with common cultures and traditions were placed under different nations- The Maasai (Kenya/Tanzania), the Somalis (Kenya/somali), the Herero (Botswana/Namibia)<br />
  10. 10. Archives and National Identity<br />What are Archives?<br />Records selected for permanent preservation because of their enduring or continuing value.<br />the common memories stored and maintained in archives are not only essential for continued organizational survival but also essential to the development and maintenance of identity.<br />
  11. 11. Archives and National Identity<br />without a store of information, every community would have to relearn from costly experience the rules of survival: physical, psychological, organizational, legal, philosophical and spiritual. <br />While archives are essential to continuity, the actual medium of storage is highly variable, having been at various times, stone, cellulose, metal, paper, celluloid, optical, magnetic, electronic or simply oral” (Bostock, n.d)<br />
  12. 12. Archives and National Identity<br />Do archives contribute to National identity?<br />The answer is Yes and No depending on: <br /> (i) who created the archives and for what purpose?<br />(ii) The Contents of the archives? What do they document<br />
  13. 13. Archives and National Identity: Case 1<br />The Somalis of Northern Kenya<br />A people with common language and culture,<br />Basically pastoralists/cattle keepers,<br />Somali speaking people had through colonial boundary "arrangements" found themselves dismembered by colonial powers into Kenya and Somalia<br />1960/61 Referendum held to determine their future destiny<br />
  14. 14. Archives and National Identity: Case 1<br />Archives indicate they overwhelmingly chose to join Somalia Republic<br />British Government refused to abide with the results of the referendum.<br />Result: A secessionist gorilla warfare (Shifta) between 1963-69.<br />Kenya govt. won the battle, inhabitants of Northern Kenya remained Kenyan nationals<br />
  15. 15. Archives and National Identity: Case 1<br />The Archives held at the National Archives in United Kingdom and other western capitals bear testimony on how Somali’s national identity was dismembered.<br />Can our archival materials be used to rebuild Somali’s national identity ?<br />
  16. 16. Archives and National Identity: Case 2<br />The archives of truth and reconciliation Commission (TRC) South Africa.<br />Truth and Reconciliation Commissions create records of human rights abuses that are as complete as possible. <br />They often record the nature and extent of the crimes and a full record of names and fates of the victims. <br />
  17. 17. Archives and National Identity: Case 2<br />The identities of those who gave the orders and those who executed them.<br />Large quantities of records unearthed showing human rights abuses and how state machinery was used to deny citizen’s rights<br />The hope is that such a record, will ensure that such human rights violations do not take place in the future and <br />also further the development of a human rights culture in the society.(Sarkin,2001:167) <br />
  18. 18. State of African Archives<br />Records keeping in many African countries began with colonial administrations<br />Africa has a wide range of documentary materials:- from clay tablets, stone carvings, stone drawings, leather, parchment and vellum, paper, straw, tree back, rock paintings, signs patterned into dwellings, clothing, shields, markings, temporary and permanent on human bodies,” (Motsi, 2004:84)<br />oral histories of the people are also major historical documents. <br />
  19. 19. State of African Archives<br />It is through these stories that we are able to reconstruct the past of the Bantu of Africa. It is through these stories that intertribal friendship or hatred was kept alive and burning: that the young were told who their ancestors were, who their enemies were and who their friends were. <br />These stories that have shaped Africa as we know it- years and years ago (Mutwa(1985:vii), <br />
  20. 20. Challenges in Using African archives for National Identity<br />Except for Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia) Archival services developed late in Africa.<br />Archival holding are unbalanced largely documenting the activities of the colonizing power and not the local communities.<br />How the voiceless be given a voice in such archives? <br />How can the ordinary citizen identify himself with such a past?<br />Can such records be trusted for building national cohesion and integrity?<br />
  21. 21. Challenges in Using African archives for National Identity<br />Colonial administration did not take any meaningful practical steps to establish strong archival services in its colonies in Africa. <br />Colonial holding cover the following aspects: correspondence with the home governments in the form of incoming and outgoing dispatches. <br />Records created by organs of the central organs of colonial government , by the governor, his secretariat, and his legislature. This category may also contain correspondence with settlers and others home citizens residing in the colony.<br /> <br />
  22. 22. Challenges in Using African archives for National Identity<br />Records of specialized Departments such as Labour, education, agriculture, meteorology, police, railways , finance, etc<br />Records of provincial administration and district councils. This group of records is perhaps the most valuable in documenting peoples identities as they relate to the local areas and provide detailed information on the history of the local communities with which the colonial government interacted with. <br />
  23. 23. Challenges in Using African archives for National Identity<br />Major gaps in the holdings of colonial archives due to: <br />removed of some records from their countries of origin to European capitals on the eve of independence.<br />Archival holding relating to a community may have been shared between different states:<br />After the First World War, German records held locally in Tanzania were divided between the Belgians in Rwanda - Urundi and the British in Tanganyika with the British inheriting the bulk of the records while Rwanada –Urundi taking custody of the provincial records. <br />
  24. 24. Challenges in Using African archives for National Identity<br />Until about 1920 Jubaland province which is now in Somalia was part of British East Africa territory (present day Kenya). <br />How can archives documenting such activities be utilized in fostering national cohesion and national identity when they show how nations were disbanded? <br />
  25. 25. Challenges in Using African archives for National Identity<br />most archival holdings only capture the history and life of the colonizers. In Zimbabwe, it was observed that while there was a “massive amount of materials from the white community, little could be found from the black population even in the form of oral tradition” (Njovana 1993:37). <br />How can such archives be used to enhance national identity?<br />
  26. 26. Other Challenges in Using African archives for National Identity<br />Inadequate finding aids,<br />Lack of recognition by national governments of the role played by archival institutions,<br />Outdated archival legislation which impacts negatively on access to the collections,<br />Inadequate number of professional archivists,<br />
  27. 27. Other Challenges in Using African archives for National Identity<br />Lack of adequate archival training schools,<br />Poor systems of archival arrangement and description,<br />Understaffing of archival services,<br />Poor storage facilities for records,<br />Inadequate retrieval tools (Kemoniet. al, 2003) <br />
  28. 28. Conclusion<br />Can African archives be used for National Identity?<br />Yes but with caution.<br />“These archives can also serve as source for the latter decades of the pre-European period. The first explorers, chiefs de mission and district officers tended to compile district books, intelligence reports, and ethnographic surveys of the new territory. The quality of these reports varies greatly, but where they are good they are one basis for reconstructing segments of African history during the half a century or more before European conquest.” (Curtin 1960:146)<br />
  29. 29. Thank You<br />