(The following is a post by Laverne Page, Area Specialist, African Section, African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress.)
The Library of Congress African Government Web Archive began in 2014 at the initiative of the African Section in the African and Middle Eastern Division. It serves as a major source of contemporary information from key African government ministries, institutions and organizations for the 51 countries in Africa south of the Sahara. The focus of the archive was initially on capturing government publications and information about the Ebola virus epidemic then raging through Western Africa, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. By March 2020, coverage had expanded into many more countries to include a new public health crisis, the global Covid-19 Pandemic. Through this archived material, history of the two major pandemics in the African Continent is preserved and many stories can be told through these snapshots back in time.
Take the website of Liberian, Ministry of Health & Social Welfare as an example, between December 3, 2014 and August 4, 2016 the Library captured this site 56 times. The first capture shows that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf issued a press release on July 22, 2014, affirming that “…the Ebola outbreak in the country is a National Emergency, and has called on all Liberians and residents within the borders of Liberia, to join the government and partners in the fight against the deadly virus.” Illustrations speak loudly, with a photo of her getting her temperature checked as required by everyone in public spaces. Another photo shows front-line workers in the fight against Ebola. From 2014 to 2016, the Library has captured and cataloged many publications from this ministry site.
Another example is the Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation website, which was saved 77 times between December 3, 2014 and May 6, 2020. Through the snapshot archived on 05/05/2020 at 18:03:36, we learn that “The Minister of Health and Sanitation Prof. Alpha Wurie has confirmed that Sierra Leone has registered a second confirmed case of COVID-19.” A notice posted on the website also directs the population to observe the health curfew imposed by the government at the time.
Apart from the topic of public health issues, snapshots in this web archive also reveal political change and societal trends in African nations, mainly through the primary source materials such as annual reports, development plans, economic reports, budgets, population censuses, statistics and foreign affairs documents. The principal languages of the archived material are Amharic, Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Swahili. [Photo of Zanzibar] The formats include PDFs, videos and social media.
Many countries describe themselves as democracies governed by executive, judicial and legislative bodies. Web portals at the national level provide many access points to these governing bodies. It should be noted that in many countries, libraries, archives and universities are also governed at the national level.
Increasingly many countries are developing national or presidential portals. The Library’s African Government Web Archive continues to collect such websites from the following countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
This archive ensures that the Library of Congress and the United States Congress will have ongoing access to information from Africa and to ‘born digital’ government publications from African nations. These websites also provide contemporary and future researchers with evidence of how these African governments communicated through this medium both with their citizens and with people around the world.
This digital initiative adds to the Library’s vast collection of resources from Africa and is part of the institution’s continuing efforts to seek documentation in all formats and languages to support current research and future scholarly activities.
For reference inquiries about the African Government Web Archive or the Library’s Africana Collection in general, contact the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room through Ask A Librarian or call (202) 707-4188.
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