Makerere University in collaboration with the Sub-Committee on Education and Research Working Group Africa (SCEaR-WGA) of UNESCO Memory of the World and Uganda National Commission for UNESCO (UNATCOM) organized hybrid a seminar on “Preventive Conservation and Disaster Reduction of Documentary Heritage in Africa”. Held from 4th to 5th July 2023 in the Yusuf Lule Auditorium, the objective of the Seminar was to provide input to the guide on Preventive Conservation and Disaster Prevention of Documentary Heritage in Africa being developed by SCEaR-WGA.

Officially opening the seminar, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Prof. Umar Kakumba appreciated SCEaR-WGA and UNATCOM for their invaluable support in organising and hosting the seminar. He therefore congratulated the Convener Prof. Elisam Magara, the Department of Records and Archives Management, the East African School of Library and Information Sciences (EASLIS), and the College of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS) on championing the initiative at Makerere University.

Left to Right: Assoc. Prof. David Luyombya, Ms. Misako Ito, Prof. Umar Kakumba-DVCAA, Prof. Elisam Magara, Ms. Rosie Agoi-Secretary General UNATCOM, and Dr. Sarah Kaddu-Dean EASLIS at the opening ceremony.

“The strength of any nation is measured largely by the strength, character, and proficiency of its people. Beneath the people is the knowledge – the human side of enterprise. Knowledge does not emerge from space, it must be generated, managed, and preserved” noted Prof. Kakumba. This, he added, is particularly important in today’s knowledge economy for the sake of providing solid points of reference for future generations.

Makerere University is happy to associate with UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme and many partners that seek to foster this document and knowledge preservation” he added.

Prof. Umar Kakumba addresses the Seminar.

In line with documentation and preservation efforts, Prof. Kakumba shared that the University Leadership is in the final stages of setting up the Muteesa II Memorial Museum, and upon completion, the reconstructed Main Administration Building would allocate space for a Museum.

Addressing participants, Ms. Misako Ito, the Regional Adviser for Communication and Information in Africa, UNESCO thanked Makerere University and Prof. Elisam Magara in particular for organizing the event. She noted that Japan as a country that is prone to natural disasters has in response come up with very well-developed disaster prevention strategies.

Ms. Misako Ito thanked Makerere University for hosting the Seminar.

“For the last four years, Japan has funded this project to promote Preventive Conservation and Disaster Prevention of Documentary Heritage in Africa” she added relatedly.

Ms. Misako informed participants that UNESCO had on 1st July 2023 launched a new call for nominations for the Memory of the World International Register and encouraged the Uganda National Memory of the World Committee to submit entries. She noted that because only 5% of documentary heritage entries come from Africa despite its rich history, UNESCO has held workshops in Madagascar and Kenya to raise awareness of the initiative.

Ms. Rosie Agoi addresses the Seminar.

Ms. Misako said the latest call has added an important gender component to prominently reflect women in archives and historical narratives. She equally encouraged participants from other African countries to consider preserving the documentary heritage of revolutionary movements, which significantly impacted the continent’s political leadership.

As Convener, Prof. Elisam Magara introduced members of the SCEaR-WGA namely: the Group Coordinator, Prof. Papa Momar Diop, Associate Professor at the University Gaston Berger, Senegal; Ms. Esther Olembe, Director of the National Archives of Cameroon; Dr. Lydia Waithira Muthuma, Senior Lecturer, Technical University of Kenya; Mr. Apolinaitre Tokanji Gbaguidi, Professor of Digitization at the Calavi University of Abomey, Benin; and Mr. Seyni Moumini, a specialist in sub-Saharan Africa and Islam manuscripts at the Abdou Moumouni University, Niger. He equally introduced Ms. Hasiniaina Rajaonarivelo from the Malagasy National Commission for UNESCO who held a session on how to successfully register an entry in the Memory of the World.

The Seminar Convener, Prof. Elisam Magara.

During the hybrid seminar, participants listened to a keynote address delivered virtually by Mr. Lothar Jordan, Chair of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme Sub-Committee on Education and Research (SCEaR). Prof. Papa Momar Diop, who also doubles as President of the African Regional Committee of Memory of the World (ARCMoW), and Dr. Lydia Waithira Muthuma also gave highlights of the Guide on Preventive Preservation Strategies.

Notable from the work done to date was the need to document Africa’s rich traditions, culture, and norms that are largely passed on from generation to generation orally. “Many of us come from communities where the spoken word is the form of documenting knowledge and encapsulating heritage” explained Dr. Muthuma.

Dr. Lydia Waithira Muthuma supplemented Prof. Papa Momar Diop’s virtual presentation of the highlights of the Guide on Preventive Preservation Strategies.

One of the recommendations of the guide under development is that ARCMoW’s stakeholders should come together and create a specific place for oral heritage, Africa’s living heritage. Citing examples such as traditional marriage ceremonies and decisions on where one ought to be buried in case of dispute e.g. the Kenyan Case of S. M. Otieno where customary law took precedence over common law, Dr. Muthuma said, “We have to be the ones to create a section or instrument in the Memory of the World where oral traditions are taken care of.”

So far, the guide contains chapters on; 1) Specific aspects of the region 2) Analysis and management of risks 3) How to involve the community 4) How to handle natural disasters 5) How to teach preventive conservation of documentary heritage, and 6) Standards and handbooks on disaster prevention (ISO, ICA, IFLA, CCAAA, IASA etc.).

Prof. Magara equally shared the ten loss factors he is contributing to documenting in the guide namely; 1) Physical forces 2) Theft and vandalism 3) Fire 4) Water 5) Biological dangers (insects, etc.) 6) Chemical dangers 7) Light 8) Temperature 9) Humidity and 10) Loss of information due to obsolete equipment.

Dr. Dominic Lali Mundrugo-Ogo chaired the session on reflections.

The seminar also featured a session on reflections chaired by Dr. Dominic Lali Mundrugo-Ogo, Assistant Secretary General, UNATCOM. Contributors to the session included Assoc. Prof. Ruth Nalumaga, the University Librarian, at Makerere University, and Mr. Adonia Katungisa, Director, of the National Library of Uganda (NLU). Additional contributions were from representatives of the; Uganda Library and Information Association (ULIA), Consortium of Uganda University Libraries (CUUL), Cross-Cultural Foundation Uganda, National Records Centre, and Archives, Ministry of Public Service, Library and Information Services, Parliament of Uganda, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation and Academia, among others.

Dr. Mundrugo-Ogo thanked panelists and participants for contributing to the discussions, noting that a lot of ground had been covered in line with the seminar theme. “We need to document our African cultural values, rituals, and practices. It is a challenge for all of us to work in that direction.”

Assoc. Prof. Ruth Nalumaga (Right) shares reflections from the University Library on the day’s theme. Other panelists (Seated) contributed reflections from their respective institutions.

He challenged representatives of institutions present to each nominate what entries ought to be included in the national register for consideration by the National Committee of the Memory of the World. “Today’s meeting will be fruitful if henceforth, we start receiving proposals coming forward to form the basis for the national committee to act.”

Delivering the closing remarks on Day One, the Principal CoCIS, Prof. Tonny Oyana on behalf of the Vice Chancellor and Makerere University thanked UNESCO represented by Ms. Misako, SCEaR-WGA, UNATCOM, and all participants for contributions to the efforts to preserve Africa’s Documentary Heritage. He reassured the stakeholders that despite the risk posed by lack of documentation to the preservation of oral African knowledge, technology through various platforms offers a lifeline to not only embark on but also accelerate these efforts.

Prof. Tonny Oyana delivers the closing remarks on Day One.

“I want to reassure all of you that we have new resources that we need to look to such as YouTube. We need to rewrite these literary elements or adopt oral documentation and we have the technology to help us document this knowledge” he said.

Prof. Oyana shared that the Makerere University Strategic Plan aspires to make the institution more research-led, with a research agenda that lays emphasis on community engagement, and commended the organizers on a job well done in this regard. “Your work Prof. Magara is well aligned to our research agenda and creating visibility for the University.”

Day One of the Seminar was moderated by the Principal Public Relations Officer, Ms. Ritah Namisango. Additional recommendations from Day One included the need to boost the Bachelor of Cultural Heritage Studies developed by the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda, with support from UNESCO’s ICH Fund to cater for Masters and Ph.D. level studies. The program is currently offered at Uganda Martyrs’ University, Kabale University, Kyambogo University, and the Islamic University in Uganda.

Participants that attended the ARCMoW Business Meeting and MoW workshop on Day Two of the Seminar.

Day Two of the Seminar was dedicated to the ARCMoW Business Meeting and MoW workshop.

Seminar in the media: