Interviewed by Eulalia Amabo Nchang — The Director of National Archives in Yaounde, Dr. Michael Ngwang Ngwanyi, says they are struggling to restore the vibrancy that the Archives enjoyed before 1990.

He made the remark in an exclusive interview with The Post shortly after commemorative activities marking this year’s International Day of Archives celebrated under the theme “National Records and Archives Management System and its Contribution to Governance and the Emergence of Cameroon: Stakes and Challenges”, on June 10. 

While harping on the importance of National Archives to national development, Dr. Ngwang said “our main difficulty is trying to catch up with the 30 years gap of lateness. Between 1990

The Post: Cameroon joined the international community to celebrate the International Day of Archives. What are some of the major functions of the National Archives in Cameroon?

Dr. Micheal Ngwang: The National Archives is a unit of general administration that is in charge of developing policy and implementing it in the domain of archives.

It also assists and accompanies all other institutions that express and have the need for the domain such as Ministries, parastatals and other private institutions. We, therefore, preserve the collective memory of the country. As a result, we acquire records created by the government, transfer them to the National Archives, process, conserve, diffuse and show access to those who need them.

How aware is the general public about the activities of the National Archives?

Public awareness is relative. Some people are aware but we still believe that the awareness is not yet total. This lack of awareness is to be expected because for quite sometime now, we have not been talking about archives in the country. You also find very educated people who do not know about the National Archives.

On the other hand, some persons are aware because if you visit our reading room, you will find our records and statistics there. Last year, we received over 3,250 persons and we also gave assistance to over 7,000 persons. From these statistics, one can conclude that the public is aware though we have a target of 10,000 this year. However, this statistics further reveal that we have only achieved 35 percent of our target. We still have a greater percentage to cover.

What are some of the difficulties that impede the National Archives from meeting its objectives?

The difficulties are quiet many. First, so many people are not aware of the importance of archives. As a result, they might not know what it takes to give us the support that we need. Practically, our main difficulty is trying to catch up with the 30 years gap of lateness between 1990-2008, nothing was said about the National Archives. It was only in 2008 that the National Archives started functioning again as a department.

And so within that time, so many people retired with others not trained and the processing of archives was not done. The building as well was abandoned and it was only early in 2009 that serious work began. So many accusations that many people make, we are not answerable to them. We are only trying to make a bad situation better. This is because we inherited not a very good past.

We also face the problem of personnel. We are about 28 at the National Archives in Yaounde and a staff of five trained workers at the annex in Buea, whereas we need a minimum of 150 personnel to do basic work in all the departments. Furthermore, the building is old and small. We are supposed to ensure transfers from the different Ministries, but we have not been able to do so for the past 20 years because of the problem of space.

There is also the problem of no good laws that protect and empower the Archives. We equally face problems of obsolete equipment. Even the shelves are obsolete and not all materials have shelves. We further need important equipment like a van for transporting all the archives from the different regions. Of course, we do not have sufficient funding.

Even our status is not very clear. I am not the Director of the National Archives, but only an acting Director. I am the Director of Archives and Information at the Ministry of Arts and Culture. However, the Director of the National Archives will be appointed soon following the proposals that we have made.

What are some of the measures adopted to eradicate these difficulties?

Improvements have been made in certain areas. More staff is being trained. In 2010, the Ministry of Public Service and Administrative Reforms did some recruitment. We also have a training programme that we are working on. When the Minster of Arts and Culture, Ama Tutu Muna, evaluated the programme, she decided to halt it temporarily so as to redo it in order for the programme to meet the expectations of the population. This programme will train intermediate staff, because the archives department is a labour intensive one.

In relation to the building, there is already the beginning for the survey of another structure. The Prime Minster Philemon Yang in 2011 instructed us to do a feasibility study for a befitting building. As a result, construction work is expected to begin by 2014-2015. This will also address the problem of space.

Another issue is trying to modernize the archives. The world is now a “global village” and so we are trying to go digital. Again, the Prime Minister, in the same note, instructed us to do a national plan for the digitization of the national archives. This will help us know which software to acquire. We began this year with the first phase which is a general inventory.

We equally have the Charter of Archives which is an assembly of technical tools which will enable us to function effectively. To this effect, a national forum was organised last September which received over 175 participants from all Ministries and regions. We are therefore going to have a procedure manual, record schedule and other instruments that will enable us function well. We think that the future is bright, but we still have a long way to go. There are signs in the tunnel that things are going to get better for us.

First published in The Post print edition no 01438