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The transfer of the “Africa Archives” to the State Archives

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The “Africa Archives” are the public records of the Belgian colonisation in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. For a long time, these 9.5 linear kilometres of archives were kept at the FPS Foreign Affairs and are currently being transferred to the National Archives of Belgium 2 - Joseph Cuvelier repository (NAB2), in accordance with applicable law (Archives Act of 24 June 1955, amended by the law of 6 May 2009). To date, about 5 linear kilometres of archives have been transferred since the first batch was handed over in 2016. The Africa Archives remain accessible to the public during the transfer operations under the same conditions that apply to the other collections preserved by the State Archives.

Project team: Marie Van Eeckenrode (coordination), Bérengère Piret, Luis Angel Bernardo y Garcia, Gillian Mathys and Faissal Beddi.

  

The “Africa Archives”

Two terms are used in Belgium to refer to the public records of the Belgian colonisation in Central Africa: “Africa Archives” and “Colonial Archives”.

The term “Africa Archives” denotes only the colonial archives kept at the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs that are currently being transferred to the State Archives. It refers to the last denomination of the Ministry of Colonies, namely the Ministry of African Affairs. When it was liquidated in 1962, the Archives Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which inherited the archives of the Ministry of African Affairs, created a new archives service for the “Africa Archives” that was separate of the diplomatic archives service. The term “Colonial Archives” (or archives related to the colonisation) encompasses a larger number of archive creators. The “Colonial Archives” denote all public and private records relating to the colonisation, that is to say documents produced by the colonial authorities as well as those produced by the missions, businesses and of course the local actors in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. All of these “Colonial Archives” preserved in Belgium are listed in the Sources guide to the history of colonisation.

Reflecting the institutional, administrative and judiciary system that produced them, the “Africa Archives” (1885-1962) are composed of two main collections:

  • The first one includes the archives originally produced by the Gouvernement général (General Government) of Congo, known as Administration d’Afrique (Africa Administration), which was also responsible for the Mandate and later Trust Territories of Ruanda-Urundi, as well as the archives produced by its legal predecessor, namely the Gouvernement local (Local Government) of the Congo Free State (approximately 6 linear kilometres);
  • The second one is made up of the archives produced by the Ministry of Colonies, known as Administration métropolitaine (Metropolitan Administration), by its legal predecessor, namely the embryonic Gouvernement Central (Central Government) of the Congo Free State, and by its legal successors, namely the “Ministère du Congo et du Ruanda-Urundi” (Ministry of the Congo and Ruanda-Urundi) and the “Ministère des Affaires africaines” (Ministry of African Affairs) (total: approx. 3.5 linear kilometres).

But the “Africa Archives” also include:

  • Cabinet archives of the ministers in office.
  • Archives of the external services of the Administration métropolitaine, such as the “Musée royal du Congo belge” (Royal Museum of the Belgian Congo) or the “École coloniale/École d’Administration du Congo belge et du Ruanda-Urundi” (Colonial School/School of Administration of the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi).
  • Archives of colonial law organisations such as the “Fonds Reine Élisabeth pour l’Assistance médicale aux Indigènes (FOREAMI)” (Queen Elisabeth Fund for the Medical Assistance to Indigenous Peoples) or the “Fonds du Bien-Être indigène (FBEI)” (Fund for the Well-Being of Indigenous Peoples).
  • Archives of Belgian law organisations such as the “Académie royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer” (Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences), the “Institut de Médecine tropicale” (Institute of Tropical Medicine), and SABENA.
  • Archives of advisory bodies such as the “Conseil colonial” (Colonial Council) and the “Conseil de Législation” (Legislative Council).
  • Private archives relating to the colonisation.

Archives already transferred and related catalogues

Each month, sets of records are transferred from FPS Foreign Affairs to NAB2. The list of transferred archives can be found here. The records listed can be accessed upon appointment in the reading room of NAB2. If not listed, they can be consulted in the reading room of FPS Foreign Affairs, upon request also. In this list you will also find information about:

  • How to access the related catalogues: Parallel to the transfer of the “Africa Archives”, the archives are comprehensively (re-)inventoried according to international standards in order to improve accessibility.
  • How to access files that were digitised.

Individual files of the African Personnel

The archives of the African Personnel Service form a remarkable set of records among the “Africa Archives”. They consist of 110,000 index cards and individual files of Belgian agents and public officers working in the colonised regions on behalf of Congo Free State and/or the Ministry of Colonies. Among the different records series are two exceptional series about the African personnel employed by the colonial administration.

The inventory to access these 110,000 cards and files are gradually being put online. Fill in the "Name" field and select the "Personnel d'Afrique" project. You can also send your questions by email.

  

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