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.
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).