AO: This quote outlines three reasons why Kenya embarked upon retrieving its archives, which were held overseas.
Perhaps among all African countries, Kenya is the only country which embarked upon and executed a migrated archives retrieval programme successfully. The need to locate and retrieve Kenyan records held overseas stems from several factors. First, until the eve of independence, the country lacked a strong archival institution. During the colonial period, the collection and preservation of public records were accorded very low priority and thus many would-be public archives were lost. Second, in 1939, the then colonial secretariat in Nairobi was gutted by fire, destroying virtually all the records held by the government. Third, Kenya was among the few African countries which gained independence after a long armed struggle involving a group commonly referred to as the Mau Mau. On the eve of independence the imperial government opted to remove certain records from the country, arguing that it was not common practice for one government to hand over its records to a new government. Obviously, this was a direct attempt to hide the atrocities committed by the imperial government to a newly independent state." (2003, page 97)
AO: This quote highlights the use of fire(s) (also mentioned in Fedha 1972) to destroy many of the colonial government's documents and the supposed rationale for why the documents were destroyed.
On 7 September 1961, the East African Standard reported that many classified documents, including reports compiled during the Mau Mau emergency, had already been burnt. When enquiries were made about this incident, the then Permanent Secretary in the Chief Secretary’s Office, Mr T. Neil, stated that the destruction of documents was a standing exercise because of shortage of storage space. (3) We now know that the main reason why valuable Mau Mau records were destroyed was rather because they contained valuable yet sensitive information which the colonial administration did not wish to hand over to the next African government. We shall never be able to establish how many records were destroyed.
AO: According to this excerpt from Carotenuto and Luongo (2005), KNA's work in the first few decades of the newly independent Kenya was to repatriate documents removed from Kenya by the outgoing British regime.
...despite greater government support, the KNA grew slowly during the 1960s and 1970s. During these decades the institution's primary goal was to identify, catalog, and repatriate colonial gov- ernmental documents removed from Kenya at the end of the colonial period by the outgoing British regime.
AO: This opening paragraph of the paper describes where the archives are situated within the Central Business District of Nairobi (CBD). Indeed, the everyday noises of passing matatus, preachers and vendors on the street below continues to characterize the experience of working from the second floor of the archives building.
Situated at the edge of the central business district in downtown Nairobi, the Kenya National Archives (KNA) is a reservoir and living example of historical and ethnographic knowledge. Straddling the boundary between "tourist" Nairobi and "real" Nairobi, the KNA inhabits a space that transcends both function and class in a cosmopolitan, urban setting. The archives look out on the landmark Hilton Hotel, together with the swarms of up-market tourists and wealthy locals it attracts. On the KNA's rear, Tom Mboya street serves a modern gateway to the crushing, chaotic avenues and alleys that the vast majority of Nairobi's citizens tread daily as they depart from and return to the stark realities of Nairobi's eastern slums. Engulfed by the wailing horns of passing matatus and the rhythmic calls of street hawkers, the spaces inside and outside the archive offer a rich terrain for social scientists interested in both contemporary and historical Kenya.
This quote by Tayiana Chao sheds light on lesser known archives that many of Kenya's parastatal agencies hold. Parastatal agencies are companies, agencies, or intergovernmental organizations that are separate from the government, but whose activities serve the state, either directly or indirectly. This "separate but related" status leads to a blurry understanding of whether such archives are public or private.
AO: This small paragraph in the overall document is one of the few mentions of the library. It seems to suggest that despite being transferred to the Museum in 1918, it was not until almost 60 years later (over 10 years after independence) that the library had a full-time (Kenyan?) librarian.
The library has been jointly held by the National Museum and the East Africa Natural History Society since 1918 when it was transferred to the Museum. In January 1976, Miss Priscilla Allen retired and a full time librarian, Miss Bella Madara was appointed.
AO: This excerpt from the workshop summary report highlights some of the geo-politics behind "opening up" archives once they are made digital. How are users vetted and approved and who is able to access the materials?
Digitisation is a technique of preservation as much as a mode of dissemination. But once digitised, archives are put under pressure – often by foreign researchers – to make documents available online. We discussed the practical challenges facing archives in the era of digitisation: If a national archive would normally be accessible to approved researchers for a fee, should it not also be digitised and made available online? But how would researchers be approved through an online system? And how would an online system be able to differentiate between citizens and non-citizens? “Outside” expertise and foreign funding bodies (such as the EU, UNESCO and the British Library) often end up playing a crucial but, as Marja Hinfelaar pointed out, not unproblematic, role in collecting, preserving, and digitising archival material.
AO: This quote underlines the historical context of the Bretton Woods' Structural Adjustment Policies which heavily influenced the situation of libraries and educational institutions today.
The problems that PL faces, as discussed above, in Kenya and Africa are the same that libraries, publishers and booksellers face. The neoliberal policies pushed onto Africa by the WTO, World Bank and IMF have had the result of strangling educational and public libraries, turning them into beggars for crumbs from overseas. Their independence is limited and the content of what is published locally also reflects the needs of corporations, not the needs of working people. Bookselling, publishers and libraries in Kenya suffer from artificial controls on demand for books, driven by government policies such as the 16% tax on books, restrictions on recommended books in curricula and restricting diversity in the contents of books. In order to enforce such restrictive practices, the government then restricts funding to school, public and academic libraries thereby creating an artificial vacuum in book sales and availability. And yet, it is obvious if one visits public and academic libraries or even looks at street booksellers that there is a great hunger for books in general, and particularly for content that reflects more relevant and alternative views and experiences."
AO: This excerpt from the interview highlights the importance to the leadership of Ukombozi library of rooting it within the working class struggles in Kenya and the importance of situating it in a place.
The move to Kenya roots Vita Books within working class struggles in Kenya. While this may have adverse political implications in terms of its long-term survival and independence, not to mention the risk to those involved in its work, it is a necessary step to go back to its roots, as otherwise it would remain an external entity divorced from its true audience, subject-matter and roots.
(Shiraz Durrani and Kimani Waweru)
AO: This quote highlights the unequal relations of global knowledge production and Africa's often marginalized role despite being a key site of and for knowledges.
"Many initial discussions, which focused primarily on the political economy of the project, were highly charged. Numerous participants expressed suspicion that this digitizing initiative would be yet another North American project designed to appropriate Africa’s patrimony and subvert intellectual property rights and national heritage. Many argued that digitization compromises the value of national heritage by locating it in unequal exchange relations, thereby rendering national histories as mere commodities to be bought and sold in the economic marketplace. Others wanted to make sure that digitized material would be disseminated widely throughout Africa and would not simply be a research tool available to Western scholars and students. A number of archivists expressed concern that Aluka’s proposed online collection of documents would compete with their holdings; they feared that Western researchers would simply use the Aluka collection, thereby diminishing the international standing of their repositories. Finally, several discussants insisted that archives and cultural institutions that agreed to participate should receive a percentage of the presumed profi ts from the project." (page 59)