When I visited the Ministry of Lands offices in Kenya two years ago, I came into direct contact with pure mess as far as record keeping is concerned. You see, this is the place where the records about every single piece of land that is tenable in Kenya is kept. Here we go. When you want to prove of a piece of land, you have to go to this office and get certain things certified by some officer standing (or sitting) behind some counter. Behind him, or surrounding him are paper files (of course relating to some land business) piled up in a heap (if they are lucky). Now, to get a served by this ministry man, you are required to pay some fee (called search fee).
So, today i want to find out why really i have to pay this fee so i decide to pose the question to the ministry man. He grins and then asks me to look at the back of the Hall, and the roof, and the walls next to what are supposed to be windows….. It is all files. Files piled up NOT filed! “Try looking for your document if you can and I won’t charge you nothing” the man Insinuates. I am left without words, so I pay the fee and am told to come after three hours! Apparently, it will have to take some file (pile?) clerk to ransack the files to fish out my document!
This is not the only scenario in this government ministry. The provincial and District land offices have similar or even worse records keeping practices (it is actually wrong to call what goes on here, a practice).
In another case this year, I was walking on some deserted road in Industrial Area and then I spot some GOK Ministry Houses. They looked like old workshops that were abandoned during Mau Mau period (1950’s). The iron sheets that roof these buildings are rusty and dusty. The windows looked like they once had some glass panes but must have been shuttered by the 1973 earthquake and never replaced. Lucky they still retained some thready wire-mesh- may be to keep off roadside thieves. A keen look reveals that this is a records storage for this ministry (still not aware of the ministry). One can see some sun burnt (brown- not their original colour) files pressing onto the window, perhaps shouting for rescue. The files are so many as they can be visible in a row of more that five windows.
Public records in Kenya are not well managed, and that is a fact. Yes we have National Archives charged with the responsibility of ensuring that records emanating from public organisations are well maintained. There is even a law (CAP 19 Laws of Kenya) to give the Director of the National Archives and his officers teeth and muscle to galvanize the act of record keeping in every public body. So, Why have they let all this rot? Are they not given the opportunity to exercise their authority? Who are they accountable to? What are there standards (Have they set any standards)- If you ask them regarding standards, they will point to you the Procedure manual and all that… but the what is the use of a procedure manual without a clear (I mean CLEAR) policy on records keeping? Is the National Archives blind to the fact that public bodies feel like they are orphans when it comes to records keeping?
Any one visiting the Kenya National Archives Website will get an impression that something tragic happened to the web team (I doubt they have any) or the IT man down there. When you find that some pages do not exist even though they are shown on the side panel, and that the last time the content was updated was 2003, then there is something very wrong.
I was taught that information is organic, i.e. it is born, it grows and it dies. As such it displays the dynamism found in all organic objects. Having a website that has static content is a depiction of stagnation and ideological obsolescence. At a time when State archives are leading the way in formulating information policies that are in line with the changing times, reacting to technological, political, economic and social change, etc, the KNA is routinely following slumber-inducing practices that cannot help the ministries mentioned above. And the chaos persists. When the guard sleeps, who is supposed to man the situation?
I would want to see the Kenya National Archives take up their mantle without fear. Now that we have the Kenya Information and Communication Act in place, I would like to know whether KNA has come up with an electronic records management policy to safeguard possible wanton destruction of emails and other official electronic documents. I would like to see KNA sourcing Records Management Applications (RMA) that are appropriate in managing e-records in the public bodies. I would the KNA to apply International standards such as ISO 15489 in the way records are managed. There is need to avert records chaos in our public bodies.