Preservation of Kaya district colonial archives and assessment of the potential and feasibility of recovering other former district capitals' collections, Burkina Faso (EAP462)

Aims and objectives

This pilot project consists of two components: 1) preservation of the archive that was kept by the colonial district administration of the Cercle de Kaya and its transfer to the Centre National des Archives (CNA) in Ouagadougou; and 2) investigating the potential and feasibility of recovering archives that were kept by colonial district administrations in two other district capitals of Upper Volta (Fada N’Gourma and Ouahigouya).

A preliminary assessment of the collection kept in Kaya has already been made. It comprises a wide variety of documents related to the administration of the colonial district, many of them unique. They are of interest to a wide range of historical study fields: population, politics, economy, development, customary law. These documents provide an insight in the local intricacies of the administration, politics, economy and social life of the district.

The material in Kaya though is at risk of neglect, physical deterioration and destruction. The documents are stacked on shelves and on the floor in a shed behind the administrative buildings, exposed to dust and moisture and at the mercy of rats, termites and mildew. More recent documents continue to be piled haphazardly on top of the old colonial ones. The authorities are aware of the problems but lack the means (cupboards, boxes, human resources) to properly organise and maintain the current archives, or preserve the older ones.

The physical condition of these documents will be assessed, selected documents will be classified, relocated to the CNA and digitised. Two archivists at CNA will receive appropriate training in archival collection management and digitisation techniques.

The second component of this project will assess the potential and feasibility of recovering colonial archives in Fada N’Gourma and Ouahigouya in preparation for a future major research project. A preliminary inventory of materials will be created and the strategy for a major project will be formulated during a workshop organised in Ouagadougou.

The Centre National des Archives in Ouagadougou, the Gouvernorat and the Haut-Commissariat in Kaya have all given their support to the project. It is hoped the project may also foster a renewed interest in national and local histories.


Colonial archives that for decades had been piled up in a shed in the former colonial district capital, Kaya, were packed up and transported to the Centre National des Archives (CNA) in Ouagadougou. At the CNA, the documents were thoroughly dusted and subsequently sorted, selected and subjected to an initial analysis. The documents were sorted into 4,200 files, with an average of 20 documents per file. Of these, about 40% were from the period 1919-1960 and were eligible for digitisation.

A short appraisal mission to the district archives of Fada N’Gourma was organised. The building that served as a storehouse for the archives contained about 7 metres of poorly kept and maintained archives. The archives had been dispersed however, and another 40 metres of archives was found in another building, better maintained and arranged.

An important achievement of this project has been the strengthening of skills and capacities of the staff of the CNA, on national and international legislation on public and private archives, and on digitising and classifying selected archives. The staff of the CNA consider this project has been rewarding and beneficial to both the institution itself and to its staff.

Staff members, after having been trained, digitised a total of 6,144 documents. The digital copies have been deposited with the British Library.

Survey report (PDF format 475KB)

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: