Archive, Promise, and the Future in African Contexts
This panel addresses the relation between promise, archive, and the future, and how the archive forms memory and creates a tension between the past and the living present, the past and the future, and between the actual and the virtual in African contexts. The structure of the archive not only preserves but shapes memory and is always future-oriented. As Derrida explains in Archive Fever: “the archivization produces as much as it records the event.” We are interested in how the archive embraces contradictory experiences of irredeemable losses in the past and the future hope. In African contexts, the archive continues to remain instrumental in bringing to the fore these contradictory experiences and at the same time lies in the ‘experience of the promise.’ We are specifically interested in promises as well as challenges of the archive in regard to access to the past, the forming of memory and imagination of history, postcolonial and decolonial knowledge practices, the establishment of evidence and facts, the workings of denial and denunciations based on archival work and its prospect of comparison, the possibilities and limits of practices of critique.
Time: Thursday, 28/06/2018, 11 am - 1 pm
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 205
Stefanie Bognitz (University of Halle-Wittenberg)
Fazil Moradi (University of Halle-Wittenberg)
Yoporeka Somet (Académie de Nancy-Metz, France)
Aline Umugwaneza (Aegis Trust, Kigali, Rwanda)
Sara Dehkordi (Free University of Berlin, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa)
Dorothee Kuckhoff (Leipzig University)
Richard Kuba (University of Frankfurt)
Asangba Reginald Taluah (University of Cologne)
The Issue of Archive in African Context: Definition, Problems, and Outcome
It should be possible to agree on a broad definition of the notion of ‘archive’ as a support, material or immaterial, which is a witness of a social event or memory. Then the definition of an archive would include not only written but also oral documents such as songs, poetry, tales, oral literature, etc. Aside orality could be added art, artefacts, architecture, etc. as well as social practices such as dances, funerals’ celebrations, body scarifications, etc. which also display useful information. The question, therefore, is to know whether any archive can be granted an equal importance and, if not, why? Usually, this issue is only limited to a sheer distinction or opposition between written documents and orality. Even then, there seems to be no easy answer as we remember how Plato confronted with this issue in his myth of Theuth, finally considering writing as a ‘pharmakon’ (a medicine and a poison altogether). Now, in postcolonial Africa, the question remains as to how archives display, corrupt, or hide reality or memory, particularly with regard to what the Congolese philosopher Valentin Mudimbe called the ‘colonial library’? But being part of recent history (African and European altogether), could it be simply dismissed as inaccurate, since it remains a true witness of coloniality and/or European presence in Africa?
Preserving the Gacaca Archives – a Necessary Challenge
After the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in 1994, the social fabric of Rwanda had been ruptured. Many survivors had few family members left, and perpetrators of genocide crimes fled in the refugee exodus into neighbouring countries or went on living side by side with survivors. There seemed to be no future for Rwandan society and no reason to live for traumatized victims. The genocide had been one of proximity, in which members of communities killed their neighbours. Rwandans from various backgrounds came together to reintroduce the traditional community dispute resolution mechanism called Gacaca, to supplement the judicial system in the handling of genocide cases. Nearly 2 million cases were presented before the Gacaca Courts. These cases produced an estimated 60 million important documents and around 8,000 audio-visual materials. The Gacaca Archive is world’s largest collection of information on transitional justice and is therefore considered both an important national store of memory and a globally significant resource for research. This paper intends to discuss the channels used to provide access to the Gacaca records and challenges faced during the implementation. While talking about the access of the Gacaca records, we cannot forget looking at the linguistic barriers that are part of the challenges of documentation work. All the records are in Kinyarwanda and yet the content has to be communicated in foreign languages; and for that to happen, the best translators are needed. If the genocide has to be a lesson for future generations, digitizing evidence-based materials presents a massive opportunity for different end users because the world is going digital. The experience of Rwanda will reach far beyond its borders, and hopefully, the world will learn the cost of losing humanity and therefore take action.
Thinking the Forbidden Archive in the Face of Present-Day Forced Evictions in South Africa
A suitcase full of memories. A story untold. Documented evidence of a struggle against the forced eviction from houses in which pensioners where born. Mrs Georg, Jerome Daniels, and Faeza Meyer, each of whom were evicted from different places in the Greater Cape Town Area, insist on narrating what has happened in the eviction processes themselves. The ways they organized themselves, formed committees, how they were framed and presented their court cases, and the ways in which the police and Anti-Land Invasion Unit treated them – all these issues they are determined to raise awareness around by providing access to their narratives and the related material they have collected over the years. The arrangements of that material have formed archives that tell a different story to the official narrative of the particular eviction process. This paper wants to know how these archives can be understood. What does the dominant discourse on forced evictions try to erase, what archives nurture the discourse, and how can that what remains untold be read? The paper wants to find answers to this question and will discuss memory, method, historiography, and epistemology in relation to this question. The discussion and use of theory evolved out of the necessity to formulate what the people affected by forced eviction and criminalization were expressing and narrating, their living conditions, and the ways in which they accessed their memories on the one hand, and the mechanisms used by governments, business sector, and media to undermine histories of eviction, removal, relocation, criminalization, and unequal access to the city, on the other hand. In this vein, the paper starts with thinking archive with Derrida and continues with the discussion of coloniality and the archive. It then discusses and formulates answers to the relation between the archive, institutionalization, and the making of memory, and subsequently, between archive and method. As its next step, the paper thinks of the people evicted as archivists and will discuss their archives in the section thinking the Forbidden Archives. The aim here is to formulate an understanding of how their archives relate to the dominant discourse on forced eviction, while the concept of forbidden archives will become clearer as well. Through accessing and analysing the colonial archive, its ways to name and frame the black subject, the reciprocal relationship between coloniality, and (what I name) the urban development discourse will be illustrated and analysed.
Standing Still - the Tiglachin Monument’s Re-Invention from a Sign of Power to an Alleged International War Memorial
Monuments, museums, and rituals serve communities as memory storages to commemorate certain points in history. They are also instruments of the political elite to determine and communicate what is to be remembered – and how – in order to evoke a political identity. In the multi-ethnic state of Ethiopia, the presence of memory storages relating to the socialist regime of the Derg, which found its violent peak in the Red Terror in 1977/78, is significant. In an empirical research conducted in 2017, the effect of three significant memory storages on different groups of recipients was compared cross-sectionally, taking into account domestic politics and Ethiopia’s role in the Horn of Africa. Based on the Tiglachin Monument in Addis Ababa, this contribution discusses the exploitation of the country’s past by the current government of the EPRDF, which overthrew the socialist regime. Donated by the North Korean regime to support the socialist propaganda campaign, its walls narrate the Derg’s promise of a prosperous future. Instead of falling along with the regime, the monument, widely known as the ‘Derg Monument’, was officially renamed as ‘Ethiopia-Cuba Friendship Memorial Park’ in 2007 and extended with a memorial for the Cuban internationalists who fell in the Ogadén War. The data (interviews and participant observations) demonstrates that, through the prevailing connotation to the Derg and the country’s liberation narrative, a national memory is institutionalized which seeks to enhance the identification of the heterogeneous population with the state of Ethiopia and its government and also accords to the new allies – the Western world.
Leo Frobenius Going Digital – Which Images for Whom?
The pictorial archive of the Frobenius Institute consists of 60,000 photographs and 40,000 watercolour paintings, pen-and-ink or charcoal drawings, displaying mainly African material culture and technology such as architecture, handicrafts, religious objects, clothing, hairstyles, etc. as well as rock art. Produced mainly during Leo Frobenius’ twelve expeditions to Africa between 1904 and 1933, the images constitute a unique body of visual representation during the early colonial period.
Some years ago, most pictures have been accessed, digitized, and published on the web. However, a number of questions concerning the contextualization of the images still have to be solved. How much information on the production of the images and the collections historical usage could or should be given along the database? Trickier are ethical questions. This has been highlighted by a relatively small collection within the archive: pictures from aboriginal Australia. There is a strong discourse among the indigenous communities about restricting access to visual representations of so-called secret/sacred places, rituals, and persons. How far are we with such discussions in Africa and where do we stand when conflicts arise between the ideal of free information and the need for censorship in order to protect minority rights – assuming somebody is mandated to define such rights? One way of dealing with the images beyond their mere online publication would be to take them serious as a shared Euro-African heritage. This means, for example, to design common research and exhibition projects with partner institutions in concerned countries and thus assure a continuous debate about the images and their value as historical sources.
Asangba Reginald Taluah
Archiving African Indigenous Knowledge: Some Reflections on the Intangible
Archiving has been a part of man since time immemorial and so has it transformed in diverse complexities to the very recent digital archiving in its varied manifestations. In regard to conservancy, the impacts of archiving have proven far more rewarding than can be envisaged. It is from the old that the new is fashioned. A better understanding of a people and their creative inventiveness to some extent has also been possible as a result of the knowledge of the past and what has been archived in particular. Thus human advancement from diverse fields in the wake of globalization owes much to archiving. Notwithstanding the significant impacts of archiving throughout the ages, there still remain gnawing limitations: the possibility of defective archived material, accessibility gaps, and lack of interest on the part of those who matter as far as the archived material is concerned, amongst some other factors, pose great challenges to archiving. Archiving knowledge is one thing, people appreciating that knowledge quite another thing. Though these challenges are common with both the tangible and intangible indigenous knowledge, the challenges of the intangible such as language and oral traditions as a whole are more critical. For instance, as purposes are central to indigenous knowledge, what is the relevance of an archived language without speakers? This paper, therefore, attempts to examine archiving from diverse perspectives. It also seeks to explore the prospects and challenges of archiving and outline some measures for better archiving practices.