Belgium to return Rwandan files in 2 years

Wednesday March 28 2018

The ethnographic museum of the Institute of the

The ethnographic museum of the Institute of the National Museum of Rwanda in Butare. Belgium has agreed to repatriate important archived records to Rwanda in the next two years. FILE PHOTO | NATION 

More by this Author

Belgium has agreed to repatriate important archived records to Rwanda in the next two years.

Brussels said it will send the records in digital format, but still needs special approval from Belgian Privacy Commission for some of the documents.

In a consultative meeting with experts, archivists and librarians convened by the Ministry of Sports and Culture, which oversees archives and library business in the country, officials from museums in Belgium assured the government of access to the data in two years.

Guido Gryseels, Director General of Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA), told The EastAfrican that Belgium was willing to share the files containing cultural and national heritage of its former colonies.

“We will make efforts in the next two years to digitise those archives and return them to Rwanda in digital format. We have already digitised some photos and films, some of which have been returned,” he said.

Thousands of files

Belgium possesses thousands of files extracted during the colonial era dating mostly between 1900 to 1960 from Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to him they have agreed with government of Rwanda to have completed the exercise in the next two years after all files materials are digitised, a project that is supposed to cost around €300,000 ($372,000).

Mr Gryseels said that some private documents will need special permission from the Belgian Privacy Commission, citing those involving children from mixed marriages.

“Some of these children were later sent to orphanages or foster families in Belgium and we have their files but we will need to respect personal privacy and for that kind of file we must have the permission of the commission,” he said.

Julienne Uwacu, Rwanda’s Minister for Sports and Culture, commended Belgium for the decision to repatriate the important archives.

Ethnographic collections

The Royal Museum of Central Africa (RMCA) has been working with the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda, especially its ethnographic branch in Huye district, mostly on exchange of ethnographic collections involving historical, ethnographic and archaeological artefacts.

Of the preserved materials in Belgium, there are at least 10 million copies of German archives, 65 million of copies relating to Rwanda- Burundi (Ruanda-Urundi) as a protectorate of Belgium, their territorial and administration services and archives of research institutes during the colonial era.

The museum also claims possession of files dating 1890-2017 on 2,300 ethnographic objects from Rwanda, comprising of wickerwork, wooden pots, baskets, metal objects, utensils, music instruments; archives on scientific missions in Rwanda and around 4,000 photographs and number of films on Rwanda.