Until 2018, over 10 km of records of the so-called ‘Africa Archives’ from the period 1885-1962 will be transferred to the State Archives. Among these records are 5 km of archives from the former Ministry for Colonies, 4.5 km of archives from the Governor-General of the Congo and 1.4 km of colonial personnel files. On 11 December 2014, a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ was signed between the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the State Archives.
Which archives are transferred?
The so-called ‘Africa Archives’ (1885-1962) comprise:
- The archives of the former Ministry for Colonies (5 km)
- The archives of the Governor-General of the Congo (4.5 km)
- The files on former colonial personnel (1.4 km)
These archives comprise both the records (files) and the file system and other finding aids.
Why is the ‘Africa Archive’ transferred to the State Archives?
Firstly, the transfer takes place because the FPS Foreign Affairs is legally obliged to hand over its records older than 50 years to the State Archives (Law on Archives of 24 June 1955, as amended by the law of 6 May 2009; Royal Decrees of 18 august 2010). Secondly, the FPS Foreign Affairs holds that in times of budget restrictions, it must concentrate on the activities that are most central to its mission and that may provide the most added value.
Where will the ‘Africa Archive’ be stored?
The records will be packaged at the premises of the FPS Foreign Affairs and transferred to the National Archives 2 - Joseph Cuvelier repository (NAB 2) within six months, where they will be joined with other “African” archives (such as the archives of Société Générale, Union Minière du Haut-Katanga and Sibeka).
The expertise of the State Archives with regard to “African” archives has increased significantly in the past years, thanks among others due to the preparation of a finding aid about the colonial period of Belgium. This inventory is written in collaboration with the Royal Museum for Central Africa and published in early 2015. The aim of this repertorium is to support and simplify the work of researchers. In 2012, the State Archives already published a guide to colonial archives that can be downloaded for free via the webshop of the State Archives.
The consequences of the transfer for researchers
The transfer will take three years (2015-2018), but the limitations of access to the records shall only be minor. When packaged, the documents of each archival holding will only be inaccessible for two weeks at the most.
Improved conservation and archival service
With the signing of the Memorandum, the State Archives formally commits itself to keeping a continuous service. Our institution is even more so dedicated to improving its service both towards the offices of the FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the various target groups of researchers.
Accessibility of the archives shall be optimised by providing digital online copies of the finding aids and by converting (or editing) existing finding aids into more detailed inventories that comply wit the international ISAD(G) standard.
Are all documents accessible freely?
As the documents are at least 50 years old, they can be accessed freely except for the following:
- Personal files (see law of 8 December 1992 about the protection of privacy in relation to the processing of personal data).
- Classified documents. The State Archives commits itself to checking for classified documents before making an archive accessible to the public. For these documents, declassification will be asked via the competent authorities from the State Security Service (for documents originating from the Belgian civil intelligence services) and the General Intelligence and Security Service (for documents originating from the Belgian military intelligence services), in appliance of the stipulations of the law of 11 December 1998 about the classification and security clearances, certificates and advice.
Will diplomatic archives also be transferred to the State Archives?
For the time being, the transfer is limited to the so-called ‘Africa Archives’. At a later stage, diplomatic archives and archives from the Belgian Development Cooperation shall follow. For this to happen though, further appraisal of the records must take place.
The National Archivist of the State Archives, Karel Velle, and the President of the Board of Directors of the FPS Foreign Affairs, Dirk Achten.