AO: This excerpt from Mnjama (2003) highlights how the Kenya National Archive in the late 1970s uniquely innovated on how to position the institution to be relevant for Kenyans. However, the author notes that such extending past the official mandate of the archives was not well received at the time and the Chief Archivist under whose watch this "golden age of the Archives" occurred was relieved of his duties in 1981.
Dr. Kagombe must… be credited for initiating the collection of oral traditions country-wide, an elaborate recruitment programme of new graduates, an excellent training programme… the construction of a permanent stand at the Agricultura Society’s Show Ground in Nairobi, establishing a documentation centre and facilitating the organization of the Round Table Conference of the International Council on Archives in Nairobi in 1978. … There is no doubt that the National Archives had embarked on a programme aimed at transforming itself from an insignificant government department to a key player in the collection and preservation of the national cultural heritage. What were then considered as non-essential functions of the department would be seen today as major areas of interest for archivists and records managers. For instance, the department was criticized for its oral tradition programme, but how do we give the voiceless a voice in our history if their activities, which were not documented in official records, are not collected? Another criticism levelled against the department was in the construction of a public gallery at Jamhuri Park, Nairobi, where annual International Agricultural Shows are held. Today, the world over, archival institutions are striving very hard to take the archives to the people, yet the efforts of the department at that time were interpreted narrowly as empire building by the then Chief Archivist.” (page 93).
AO: This quote from Carotenuto and Luongo (2005) frames the archives and those who use it as part of "resurgent civil society" and positions the archives as a space where the politics of knowledge (production) are recognized and contested by "ordinary citizens" (through their use of the historical sources and production of new knowledge?).
KNA is equally a part of a resurgent civil society in which ordinary citizens increasingly assert their rights to gain access to information and recognize their stakes in the use and production of knowledge. (page 446)
SM: This excerpt reflects the fact that the National Musuems of Kenya from its onset, continues to be an institution that does not inherently value the varied cultural identities of its populace.
Right from the start, the academic subject of history has not been of significance to NMK. Indeed, except for Bethwell Ogot (2003) who worked as director of The International Louis Leakey Memorial Institute for African Prehistory (TILL-MIAP), which only operated for a few years, NMK is yet to employ a professional historian. Consequently, it has lacked the internal dynamics that would have facilitated the establishment of a gallery addressing colonial and postcolonial history,hence issues of nationhood.
AO: This excerpt from the interview situates the establishment of PALIAct Ukombozi library as a initiative to counter a mindset that reading is only for school and instead to promote and encourage reading, study and research beyond the official education system. In this way, libraries as "innovations" in practice and engagement beyond established educational systems are being articulated.
In Kenya, reading is not encouraged as part of the culture. There is a mindset among the population that reading stops when one finishes school. This impacts greatly on the sales and publishing of books, particularly non-fiction, and most bookshops shy away from stocking such books as not many people buy them.
This culture has not been challenged by relevant institutions, and promoting a reading culture, for fiction as well as non-fiction, is not a priority. A small attempt to address the issue has been made this year (2017) by the Progressive African Library and Information Activists’ Group’s (PALIAct) set up the PALIAct Liberation Library, in partnership with Vita Books and the Mau Mau Research Centre. The initiative intends to promote and encourage reading, study and research. Although its stock at present consists of mainly non-fiction, fiction is very much part of its future plans.
(Shiraz Durrani and Kimani Waweru)