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Digitized copies of colonial records handed over to the National Archives of DR Congo

On Friday 25 March, one of the main ambitions of the project DIGICOLJUST has finally come to fruition. With the support of the State Archives of Belgium, Benoît Henriet (VUB) and Amandine Lauro (ULB) proceeded to the official remise of a digital copy of the archives of the military tribunal of Leopoldville (i.e. the “pilot collection” of our digitization and research project). These archives amount to 1.147 case files (27.650 scanned pages) spreading from 1891 to 1956 and constitute approximately 20% of the whole collection of colonial court-martial records.

Speech of Mr. Moke Sanza, General Director of the Institut National des Archives of DR Congo.
Speech of Benoît Henriet and Amandine Lauro for the DIGICOLJUST team (AGR/ULB/VUB).
Handing over a digital copy of colonial archives under the watchful gaze of the Congolese National Television and of the robotic creations of Congolese artist Danniel Toya.

In line with the general ambitions of DIGICOLJUST, this handover has been conceived as a humble but significant step towards the development of sharing archival heritage between Belgium and the Congo more effectively, and as a contribution to making the written legacy of the Belgian colonial administration more accessible for the Congolese academic community. While digital copies do not solve all the issues raised by debates on the contested heritage of Belgian colonial archives, and while they do not constitute a restitution process per se, they offer new perspectives for the development of joint dynamics of conservation and research between archival institutions in Belgium and in the Congo and especially between the State Archives of Belgium and the Institut National des Archives of DR Congo.

The ceremony took place at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Kinshasa, in the presence of the Belgian Ambassador in the DRC, Mr. Jo Indekeu, and of the Minister-President of the Brussels Capital Region, Mr. Rudy Vervoort. It marked the opening of a day of academic workshops jointly organized by a ULB-VUB interdisciplinary delegation who joined the official mission of the Brussels Capital Region to Kinshasa. Handing over copies of archival collections related to the history of this capital city (and of its rural hinterland) was therefore particularly meaningful. The whole team of DIGICOLJUST is grateful to ULB and VUB colleagues for their support in the organization of this event, and above all to our Congolese partners from the INACO, Mr. Moke Sanza, General Director, and Mr. Jean-Bedel Iyoka, Vice-Director and Head of the Digitization Department of the institution. This remise could not have been possible without the behind-the-scene intensive work of archival specialists and historians Tommy De Ganck (AGR) and Ornella Rovetta (ULB/VUB/AGR).

The event also benefited from press coverage by Het Laastste Niews, La Libre and mediacongo.net.

La Libre, 28 March 2022
HLN, 25 March 2022
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The Force Publique on screen: a joint session for ULB and VUB students

This academic year 2021-2022, DIGICOLJUST is at the heart of a ULB-VUB joint research seminar in Modern and Contemporary history. BA3 students of the ULB and BA1/BA2 students of the VUB are working on colonial martial court files and are investigating the history of military justice in the Belgian Congo. Under the supervision of Amandine Lauro (ULB) and Benoît Henriet (VUB), students from both universities have met for the first time this November in a special “cross-over” session of the classes. In a tweetalig/bilingue environment, students and teachers had a lively discussion about the many-faceted representations of the Force Publique on screen following the presentation of several films dating back from the colonial period and devoted to colonial soldiers. Chacun dans sa propre langue/iedereen in zijn eigen taal, they exchanged about what these images can reveal about the “ideal” vision of military order in colonial contexts and about the mise-en-scène of the abilities -and loyalty- of colonized soldiers in the Congo, in sharp contrast with the disorderly episodes and less “glamourous” everyday life military experiences reflected in the archival files of court-martials.

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Sharing and discussing DIGICOLJUST with Congolese scholars and archivists

The “Journées de l’Histoire. Re-penser l’enseignement de l’histoire du continent africain et de la RDC” took place at the Cercle Elaïs in Kinshasa. The event was organized by the NGO Coopération Éducation Culture (CEC),the University of Kinshasa (UNKIN) and the Free University of Brussels (ULB), with the support of ARES & other partners.

Two of DIGICOLJUST’s promotors, Benoît Henriet (VUB) and Amandine Lauro (ULB) were in Kinshasa between 28 October and 3 November to present the project and discuss its uses and relevance with the community of Congolese archivists and historians.

Presenting DIGICOLJUST at the “Journées de l’Histoire”, 29 October 2021.

Henriet and Lauro first presented DIGICOLJUST at the Journées de l’Histoire, a two-day symposium on the challenges and opportunities of history teaching in the DRC. During this event, Congolese and foreign scholars exchanged views with secondary school teachers, activists, journalists and politicians, including Caroline Désir, Education minister of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. You can find an enthusiastic review of the Journées de l’Histoire and of our project under the pen of Congo-expert Colette Braeckman in Le Soir.

Colette Braeckman in Le Soir, 2 November 2021.

DIGICOLJUST’s promotors then also met extensively with the project’s Congolese partners, including Jean-Bedel Iyoka, general-director of the National Archives (INACO) and historians Christian Chiza (ISP Bukavu), Kiangu Sindani (UNIKIN) and Donatien Dibwe dia Mwembu (UNILU). The digitization of the Conseils du Guerre’s archives is a fantastic chance to deploy new research synergies between Congo and Belgium based on this shared archival heritage, and to provide Congolese students with primary sources they could mobilise for their undergraduate and graduate thesis.

The Institut National des Archives du Congo (INACO) in Kinshasa.

Many possibilities for further collaboration were sketched out during those meetings. Prof. Dibwe for instance mentioned that those archives could be used not only by historians, but also by criminologists. Jean-Bedel Iyoka suggested potential future research projects using both the Conseils de Guerre and archives of the Force Publique held in Kinshasa. Furthermore, the digitized records of colonial martial courts could serve to broaden the scope of primary sources available for history students in Kinshasa and beyond.

More about these exciting opportunities in the months to come!

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DIGICOLJUST introduced to the State Secretary for Scientific Policy

             Photo State Archives of Belgium – All rights reserved.

This 29th of September, on the occasion of the presentation of a new source guide to the history of colonisation published by the State Archives and the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgique, Congo, Rwanda et Burundi : Guide des sources de l’histoire de la colonisation (19e-20e siècle). Vers un patrimoine mieux partagé !, under the direction of P.-A. Tallier, M. Van Eeckenrode and P. Van Schuylenbergh), archivist and historian Tommy De Ganck had the opportunity to introduce the DIGICOLJUST project and some of its material to the State Secretary for Scientific Policy, Recovery Program and Strategic Investments Thomas Dermine. Together with colleagues from the State Archives, they examined a series of documents related to military trials led in the Belgian Congo.

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Introducing Digicoljust News

Archival specialist Tommy De Ganck presents DIGICOLJUST on YouTube

The State Archives of Belgium have produced a series of videos to present the results and challenges of the ongoing transfer of the “African Archives” from the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs (where archival records from the Belgian colonial administration have previously been kept). In one of these short clips, archivist and postdoctoral researcher Tommy De Ganck presents the main lines of the DIGICOLJUST project and what it implies for the State Archives. The video was shot one year ago and the project has seen many advances since then: more information about these in the forthcoming weeks!