|Article by Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Pictures by Morgan Mbabazi
Published November 10, 2007
Uganda, the only country in eastern and southern Africa without a building specifically designed for archival records, plans to construct a National Archives in Kampala at the cost of US$10 million (about USh17.5 billion) in the hope of creating a central strategy to integrate the function of libraries, archives and museums in the collection, storage, preservation, and co-ordination of documentary heritage in Uganda. BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI reports.
When completed, seven-storey building whose construction is expected to commence in 2008, will turn into the National Archives Agency responsible for the management of records in the Pearl of African country, as stipulated in the National Records and Archives Act of 2001.
“The land has been located, a building designed but funding is yet to be secured,” the Acting Government Archivist, Charles Etomet, told ArtMatters.Info in September 2007. “It is our hope that through the ongoing Public Service Reform Programme funding will be secured for this purpose.”
Although the records are available and the institute established by law, a building to house the records is missing. Currently the archives are housed in a basement of the former Colonial Secretariat building now housing the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Entebbe, 34 kilometers south of Kampala.
The National Archives is a section under the Department for Records and Information Technology in the Ministry of Public Service. It is mandated to establish and promote efficient, economic and effective records and information management systems. It is also responsible for the preservation of the documented heritage (archives) for Uganda’s posterity.
The objective of the Department is to establish an efficient records management system, to provide accurate and up to date information in order to support government operations for accountability, transparency and good governance and facilitate informed decision making.
The National Archives has only three staffers managing the huge stock of records, with a principal officer as the head, assisted by a senior archivist and one auxiliary worker. Uganda, with five archivists, compares badly against neighbouring Kenya with more than 100 trained archivists and Tanzania with 30.
According to Etomet the implementation of the National Records and Archives Act 2001 is a challenge in that funds are slow in coming. However, he says there are several activities or instruments to implement the Act through the current Public Service Reform Programme that include the drafting of the records center and archival manuals, which have been produced and delivered to the districts. The retention and disposal schedules have been printed awaiting dissemination and sensitisation to the public.
Uganda did not have a law up to 2001, which mandates that all selected records with historical, administrative, legal, fiscal, informational, research and educational value must be deposited with the national archives.
The entire records in the archives date back to 1890 when Uganda became part of the British protectorate. Due to lack of space in he archives reparatory it became impossible to add more collections after independence hence the need to have a modern centre.
The National Archives in Entebbe hold many records like the 1900 Agreements between kingdoms that existed then and the British, photos of colonial officers, kings, and local leaders up to the post colonial leaders. The most valuable is the original 1995 Uganda Constitution signed by the Constituent Assembly Delegates and the fountain pen that they used to sign is now part of the memorabilia. Bilateral agreements between Uganda and other states are also stored here.
Among the important achieves is a 16 millimeter colour film of the Royal Opening of the Owen Falls Dam by the Queen of England. There is a list of Members of the Legislative Council and National Assembly of Uganda right from March 23, 1921 up to October 8, 1962 (beginning of parliamentary life in Uganda). The recent acquisitions are 248 microfilms rolls from the Public Records Office in London in 2002 containing major records on Uganda. Each microfilm contains 50 physical films on Uganda found in Public Records Office in London. They were secured through the DANIDA Support programme.
The Conservation Unit National Archives in Entebbe was constructed under DANIDA support programme at a cost of US$500,000. The unit is meant to preserve and arrest the deterioration of records, some as old as 100 years from the elements.
National Archives in Entebbe were established in 1955 by an Englishman called P.T. English, who pioneered the acquisition and organising the records at their current home. English was replaced by a trained archivist known as Fowley who served from 1956 – 1957 when the post of archivist was abolished.
The management of archives was left to a clerical officer from 1957 – 1968 when the Government appointed the Saben Committee to look into the possibilities of re-establishing the archival services in the country. Government only appointed a temporary officer in the office of the president to be in charge as recommended by the Saben Committee and ignored the other suggestions.
Subsequently in 1974 an officer from the office of the president was seconded to be fully in charge of the archives. And the first Ugandan archivist, Mr. Eugene Juba Wani trained in Ghana was appointed as Government Archivist the post he held from 1974 – 2004. Wani served as the only archivist until 1990 when Government recruited three university graduates as trainee archivists, one has since passed away leaving only two at the National Archives and three others at Bank of Uganda.
The main users are researchers, historians, scholars and students studying records and archives administration, policy makers and the general public. External researchers (foreigners) make 80 per cent of the users per year. The ministry has got to publicize the importance of the National Archives to attract more of the nationals to the centre.
Elisam Magara, a senior lecturer at Makerere University’s East African School of Library and Information Science, argues that “many African countries including Uganda have preserved their natural and cultural heritage in terms of social tradition and documentary heritage with little emphasis on the integration of the functions of the libraries, archives and museum[s].”
In his research paper “The place of ‘Library, Archives and Museum’ in the Preservation of Documentary Heritage: A professional challenge for Uganda”Magara says there is lack of a strategy in he co-ordination of the functions of libraries, archives and museums in documenting and preserving the documentary heritage in Uganda.
“Although various efforts have focused on preservation of natural, historical and cultural heritage, there is no central strategy to integrate the libraries, archives and museum function to effectively collect, store, preserve, co-ordinate and enable access to documentary heritage in Uganda,” Magara says.
Magara’s survey, based on interviews of key persons attending the consultative meetings with staff at the National Library of Uganda, Uganda Museum, National Archives and East African School of Library and Information Science, department of Records and Archives Management, concludes: “It remains a professional challenge to Uganda in addressing the issues of space, funding, expertise, preservation, co-ordination, government intervention, publicity and accessibility and ensuring culture of access to information.” He suggests, “That is why a strategy for training, sensitising and recruitment of professionals in a co-ordinated function is required to ensure the preservation and promotion of use of the documentary heritage in Uganda.”