Government archives in Uganda have–until recently–been kept in precarious conditions. Until 2016 (when it was relocated to an impressive new building) Uganda’s National Archives lacked both space and manpower. It was not in a position to acquire papers from Uganda’s far-flung provinces, and neither was it able to deal with papers from central government ministries. A large amount of historical paperwork was left in the hands of local authorities. In several districts archives had been piled in the attics or basements of decaying old buildings and exposed to water, insects, and mice. Some collections, such as the police archives of Kabarole District, had been destroyed by persons unknown.
Beginning in 2009 Peterson became involved in an ongoing effort to organise, catalogue, and digitise endangered government archives in Uganda. There are two main streams of activity.
First: drawing in students from Michigan, Makerere University, Cambridge University, Kabale University, Busoga University, the British Institute of Eastern Africa, the Judiciary of Uganda and other institutions, Peterson has organised several teams to rehabilitate endangered paper archives. Over the course of years U-M teams have taken on five important collections: the Uganda National Archives, the National Archives of South Sudan, the Kabale District Archives, the Jinja District Archives, and the archives of Uganda’s Judiciary. The student teams work in cooperation with the records officers responsible for the collection. They labor in physically challenging circumstances—the team in Jinja, for instance, had to retrieve mouldering files from a basement that has flooded several times (photo 1, photo 2); the team in Juba worked in an overheated tent. The papers had to be excavated, placed into subject order, cleaned, and oftentimes re-covered and relabeled before they could be catalogued. The fruit of this labor is an organised archive, useful for government authorities, available for citizens to consult, and accessible for scholars and students. Here, for example, are photos of the reading room and the archive store room in Kabale District, which were renovated and organized as part of the 2013 cataloguing project; here is the archive store prior to the renovation.
In parallel with these student-led cataloguing projects Peterson works with colleagues at Mountains of the Moon University (in Fort Portal, western Uganda) to retrieve and digitize endangered government archives. With financial and logistical support from the Cooperative Africana Materials Project (CAMP) of the Center for Research Libraries and the University of Michigan, the team has thus far rehabilitated four archival collections. They include the archives of Kabarole District, the papers of the Tooro Kingdom, the archives of the Kabarole Forestry Office, and the archives of Hoima District. The work involved has been considerable: the archives have to be retrieved from the basements, storerooms, attics and sheds where they have hitherto been kept, brought into the university, sorted into deposits, cleaned, and catalogued. Then they are scanned. Over six years of work some 410,000 pages have been digitized. The paper archives have in most cases been returned to the local government organizations that own them. The digital collection resides at Mountains of the Moon University; digital copies have been given to the local governments, who can use them to ease access to archival information. All of these collections are exclusively available for consultation at Mountains of the Moon University’s newly renovated archive reading room.
The politics and process of this archive work has been discussed in several publications, including this article from former CAMP chair Jason Schultze and this book chapter from U-M graduate students Ashley Rockenbach, Edgar Taylor and Natalie Bond, who have served on several cataloguing teams. All involved in these projects see them as a contribution toward the reinforcement of Uganda’s democracy. Without archives the complexities of the past are too easily papered over. Without archives citizens cannot hold their leaders accountable.
The catalogues listed below are public documents. In most cases the catalogue is prefaced with an explanatory note outlining the arrangement of the collection. Anyone wishing to consult these collections will need to obtain research clearance from the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology, which oversees access to these archives. Prospective users are welcome to use the contact form to inquire about further information concerning these collections.
** Catalogues ** (download-able as PDFs)
Uganda National Archives (on Lourdel Road, Wandegeya, Kampala)
Tooro Kingdom Archive (held at Mountains of the Moon University)
Kabarole District Archive (held at Mountains of the Moon University)
Hoima District Archive (held at Mountains of the Moon University)
Kabarole District Forestry Office Archive (held at Mountains of the Moon University)
Kabale District Archive (kept at the Kigezi District Local Government buildings, Kabale town)
Jinja District Archive (kept at the Uganda National Archives in Kampala)
Archive of the High Court of Uganda (kept at the Uganda National Archives in Kampala)