By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published September 30, 2009
Even though the optimists wish to discredit the fact that Kenya is a literary desert, the glaring truth is that very few people read for leisure as was amply demonstrated at the just concluded annual Book Week celebrations held at the Kenya National Library Services and Sarit Centre in Nairobi and in various educational institutions across the country from September 21 to 25, 2009. Organised by the National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDC) with the aim of providing an enabling environment for the public to interact with the literary sector, the event was not as well attended as it should have been. BETHSHEBA ACHITSA reports.
As the Book Week climaxed with the special programme for the finalist children’s Reading Tent activities on September 25, the heart of the literary lover could have been dampened by the handful of those in attendance were it not for the fact that the event had brought to Nairobi some pupils of upcountry primary schools; from Kitui, Mwingi, Molo and Elburgon districts. These pupils battled it out for the various trophies that were awarded to them after a series of events that included reading, writing and drawing.
While awarding Molo district that emerged the overall winner in the three activities, Professor Hellen Mwanzi of the University of Nairobi lauded the pupils for their week-long commitment to the event in promoting the almost non-existent reading culture in the country. She urged them to go on reading not just for the sake of examinations but for the love of the written word.
With few Kenyans turning up for the event, people had travelled from as far as Tanzania and Uganda to come and express their love for the literary sector during the Book Week that runs concurrently with the Kenya Publishers Association-organised Nairobi International Book Fair.
Some 93 exhibitors, publishers, distributors and book sellers participated in the 12th Nairobi International Book Fair held at the Sarit Centre in Westlands, Nairobi.
In her speech Ruth Odondi, the Chief Executive Officer of the NBDC, lauded ComMattersKenya for its donation of the story books that were used in the finalists’ reading tent’s competitive activities and the Kenya National Library Services for hosting the event.
Explaining that the celebrations that were held on the theme, Tusome’ (Kiswahili for Let’s Read) were held to promote reading, encourage authorship, promote creative writing and bring publishers and writers together with a view to demystifying the myth that Kenya is a literary desert, Odondi also thanked the teachers from the various schools in attendance for making the 2009 event such a great success.
ComMattersKenya, that also publishes ArtMatters.Info and presents the annual Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media festival for children and youth in eastern Africa, donated books worth Sh20,000 (about US$267) to the NBDC that were used for the children tent reading activities.
Ogova Ondego, the director of ComMatteersKenya who was away in South Africa for the 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture during the Children’s Reading Tent, had said that he saw the activities of the NBDC as being extremely important in the promotion of the literary arts; that the writing and reading culture can be entrenched in Kenya only by inculcating it in children right from pre-school.
“This is also in line with our objective of equipping children and youth with the skills to create, appreciate and consume high quality literary, visual, screen and performing arts that we do through the annual Lola Kenya Screen that is held every second full week of August in Nairobi,” Ondego had said earlier while handing the books to the NBDC. He pledged that ComMattersKenya would continue supporting NBDC’s gargantuan but worthwhile efforts in helping develop the reading-for-leisure culture.
With the event having brought together only the readers, one wonders how the aim of encouraging authorship and sustaining the reading culture may be achieved. More so, if children from the remote parts of the country competing against themselves as was the case at the Kenya National Library Services, one fails to understand how healthy this is if the children are to be in the same league with those in the urban areas. It was unclear why children from Nairobi schools did not participate in the event.