Saturday, July 28, 2007

PRESERVING ERITREA'S RECORDS… the legacy continues

The Research and Documentation Center. Asmara, Eritrea.

I just returned from a conference on micrographics which was held in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The conference was the 20th Midwest Micrographics Conference hosted by the state of Wyoming. Representatives of various States (Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, etc.) presented their states’ respective state of preservation, accession, and etc. Throughout the presentation, I became more and more appreciative of the work that RDC (Research and Documentation Center of Eritrea: the de facto National Archives and Library of the State of Eritrea) has been doing with limited resources and manpower since 1991. RDC was established in 1991.The collection and preservation, however, was a legacy that started during Eritrea's War of Independence from Ethiopia (1961-1991) inside the liberated zones and in the Diaspora, whose legacy still continues today.

I have been involved in one way or another with RDC since 1993, when I went to help set up the microfilming department. Since then, the Center has moved in leaps and bounds. As a matter of fact, understanding the priority of preserving Eritrea’s documents, the Eritrean government , a couple of years ago, spent half million USD (US Dollars) to buy the latest equipment (scanners, readers, microfilm camera, etc.) for the aforementioned department. Similarly, the government spent almost a million USD about 7 or 8 years ago and bought audio-visual equipment to digitize the entire audio-visual collection.

The Microfliming Department with some of their latest equipment

RDC’s main objectives are as follows
  • To identify and collect relevant documents.
  • To preserve collected Eritrean historical records of written materials, audio and video records, newspapers, cartographic and photographic materials, religious parchments, artifacts and etc. The preservation is done through digitization, microfilming, binding, storing through environmentally controlled conditions, etc.
  • To create awareness of documentation within the society.
  • To give training on records and archives management.
  • To organize and allow public access to the documents.
An example of the state of documents found after
Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia. 


The following two pictures: Students
participating in the process of retrieving documents
during their summer (ma'tot) work program.

Below: Students loading the records to be trucked
to RDC's processing center.

Below: Visual presentation of the arduous process of acquisition, processing, preservation and access.
Also below are example-sample of some of the documents and IT Service.

Below: The Audio Visual Department.

RDC's holdings are very impressive. Here are some examples of the archival collections.
  • The Italian Period (1890-1941): Civil Tribunal Office, Private Notary Office, Decrees from 1901-1938), etc.
  • The British Period (1941-1952): British Military Administration Records.
  • The Federal (Eritrea-Ethiopia) Period (1952-1962). Biographies of members of Parliament. Minutes of the meetings of the Parliament , etc.
  • The Ethiopian Period (1962- 1991): Intelligence Records, Military records, etc.
  • The Armed Struggle Period (1961 - 1991): Eritrean Liberation Front records, Eritrean People's Liberation Front's records, Records of EPLF's departments, Dimtsi Hafash’s (Voice of the Masses’) radio broadcasting records.
  • Records of Post Independence (1991 - present): Records of the Referendum Commission and the Constitution Commission.

Collection of part of the Derg's (Ethiopian military junta )
military operations

 Above: documents preserved in archival acid free boxes.


Above: religious parchments and artifacts.

Above: Photographic Restoration Unit.

Above: an example of a damaged photograph.

Above: restored photograph of the damaged picture above.

Beside government records, individuals are encouraged to donate their collection to RDC. The number of individual collections within RDC is increasing. I would like to give two examples (one on the national level and another on the international level) of the recent addition to the growing rich depository of Eritrean history.
The first example is the Beyin Ukbaledet Collection. This collection is acquired from Mr. Beyin Ukbaledet who is a resident of Himberti. Mr. Beyin Ukaledet was the secretary of Fitwerari (title) Ghebremariam Tesfamariam who was the administrator of Kebesachiwa and Logochiwa from 1950 to 1963 (Geez Calendar or 1958-1971 Gregorian calendar). The collection is 92 box files and deals with the following administrative issues of the region.
  • Petitions
  • Complaints
  • Weekly and monthly reports
  • Cooperative loan lists
  • Demographic reports
  • Medical reports
  • Lists of families and villages under the administration
  • List of the Federal Parliament members(Eritrean-Ethiopian Federation: 1952-1962)
  • Documents related to relief and support of deprived families.
The second example is the Richard Greenfield Collection. Once the cataloging of this collection is completed, it is expected to be an extensive private Africana Collection, which in of itself can be quite sufficient to establish a major African Studies Research Center. Richard Greenfield is the renowned British historian of Africa with 45 years of teaching of African history in the continent. Among the places that Professor Greenfield taught are: Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia.

Professor Richard Greenfield in Asmara, Eritrea.

Above: part of Prof. Greenfield's Collection
The Richard Greenfield collection includes:
  • Several thousands of historical photographs on various subjects
  • Color slides on various subjects
  • Extensive notes on various subjects
  • Ghanaian traditional history
  • 80 videos on African history
  • Records on Pan-Africanism with rare volumes
  • Rare documentations produced by African nationalists in the early years of struggle against the colonial systems.
  • Extensive record on Eritrea
  • Extensive record on Ethiopia
  • Extensive record on Somalia
  • Records on Nigeria and etc.
When asked why he had given his collection of 45 years of teaching materials to Eritrea, Professor Greenfield replied by stating that he donated to the people and government of Eritrea in honor and tribute of their resilience and resolve in achieving independence after 30 years of struggle. Professor Greenfield currently resides in Asmara, Eritrea and works with RDC in cataloging his extensive and rich collection.
 Finding Aids.

Researchers using documents.

The graph shows the number of visitors

Finally, RDC's acquisition, preservation and accessibility of the private collections and government archives will certainly enrich the already rich cultural, historical, economical and political history of Eritrea.

To check out RDC's website go to: