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Angela Okune's picture
August 9, 2019

AO: It is a very interesting that within the report produced by Syracuse University professor, Robert Gregory, he mentions explicitly the critique of neocolonialist exploitation that Syracuse University was charged with after they held the KNA microfilm collection. He implicitly counters the charge, noting in detail how both parties benefited. He also notes that arrangements included that KNA would retain not only all the documents, but also the master negatives for all film produced. Syracuse was to obtain a duplicate negative from which it could produce a positive copy for research purposes at Syracuse. He writes that "Implicit in the agreement was the idea that a duplicate negative at Syracuse would be a safeguard to Kenya against the destruction of the master negative by some disaster. At a time when many valuable records were being taken secretly from Kenya to build the Africana collections of European and American libraries, the project had a special appeal in that it was designed to collect, preserve, and duplicate Kenya's records rather than remove them." However today in 2019, when I asked the search assistant in Nairobi about whether or not they had any collections that had been digitized or microfilms, he simply said no. He said there was a project some time back but it was never completed. Therefore, it appears that the original microfilms in Nairobi are either no longer or are not available to the public. No mention was made to me by the Kenyan search assistant about accessing KNA microfilms via Syracuse University libraries.

In fact the value of the collection soon generated some resentment against Syracuse by scholars at African studies programs at other institutions. Burke had set up the project without consulting the directors of these programs. ... There was at the same time resentment in Africa. The University of Nairobi, which in many ways was a rival to the Kenya National Archives in the collection of records, had not been consulted. Also, some of the Kenya faculty believed that a country's archival records were a natural resource like gold or silver and that a country was weakened to the degree that it lost control of its archives. Syracuse, they charged, was guilty of a neocolonialist exploitation. Other Kenya faculty members, who valued free access to records by the international community of scholars, were disturbed by the fact that whereas Kenya, like Britain and many other countries, prohibited access to records that were not more than thirty years old, Syracuse was imposing no restrictions. (page 36)

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