Note: This presentation was part of a two-person panel entitled “Digitization Under Duress.”
With “Stakes and Challenges of the Cameroon National Archives in the Face of Digitization,” Tomla Ernestine Tatah Lukong (Cameroon Ministry of Arts and Culture) discusses the current stakes and challenges faced at the Cameroon National Archives. Lukong gives a brief history of the National Archives in Cameroon starting from the creation of the archives services in 1952 until the current mission statement was adopted in 2014. The current arrangement of the organization is a result of a decree on September 14, 2012, which transferred the Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Arts and Culture. The National Archives is included in this new ministry. Cameroon has not undertaken the rapid records digitization that has been felt in other countries within the global South.
Lukong discusses the current challenges in infrastructure, legislation, human resources, and budget. Infrastructure challenges include the construction of new archive buildings and the purchase of new equipment. Legislative issues include changes in administrative bodies. In terms of human resources, Lukong explains that there are not enough staff “qualitatively and quantitatively.” The budget is also a problem as it is very low, which poses problems in all aspects of the organization. Lukong describes the effects that these challenges have on the National Archives. There have been no records transfers from governmental entities since 1984 and a large quantity of records are being held in different administrations and in private holdings. There are Cameroonian archival materials in foreign countries, specifically those former colonial powers of England, France, and Germany. Lukong also explains that there are no statistics regarding born-digital records in Cameroon. The current estimated volume of physical records held in the National Archives is 10,000 to 12,000 linear meters and digitized records comprising just over 25 gigabytes.
With all of this data, Lukong aims to find out “how far the Cameroon National Archives can fully retrieve and digitize the country’s existing records.” Galvanized by a 2011 presentation by the then-current minister of culture of the underwhelming status of the National Archives, the prime minister created directives to assist the archives—an urgent digitization plan, computerization of records management, and plans to construct new buildings to house the collections. In 2014 the mission of the National Archives was defined and in 2016, a director was appointed.
Lukong explains that an inter-ministerial committee met in 2018 in order to restructure the National Archives. This committee focused on several tasks, but among them was the revitalization of two National Archives buildings—one in Yaoundé and one in Buea. Due to the bilingual nature of the country, the English records are in Buea. Constructing a new headquarters for the National Archives and regional archives centers in the ten regions throughout Cameroon remains an important aspect of the development plan. In terms of human resources, the country now has more educational institutions, both public and private, that can train individuals to work in archives and records management, including at the National Archives. The development plan there focuses on digitization, but also acknowledges the continued importance that analog records have in the archive. It is Lukong’s hope that the Cameroon National Archives will prosper in the current technologically advanced archival community.
Natalie Worsham, MLIS, MA