By Ogova Ondego
Published April 10, 2014
A book with essays on how the hoi polloi—’ordinary’ citizen or the man and woman on the street commonly known as Wanjiku in Kenya—expresses himself or herself on issues of national interest is set for release at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi on April 23, 2014 at 6.00PM.
The book, that is titled Wanjiku: A Kenyan Sociopolitical Analysis, is marketed as “an extremely important addition to the body of literature on democracy and governance in Kenya” and also as a publication that provides “an understanding of how Wanjiku rightly anchors herself in national decisions.”
The essays in the publication—written mainly by academics as is the trademark of Contact Zones NRB book series—tackle issues such as poverty, unemployment, landlessness, abortion, deception and greed of politicians, sexuality and reproductive health, constitution-making, human rights and the circumstances that have shaped Wanjiku and ushered him/her on the platform to grapple with issues of national importance.
Among the writers of the essays are David Nderitu, Hazel Ayanga, Anne Njoroge, Rose Musyoka, Peter Ngau, Abraham Mulwo, Harrison Maithya, Wendy Taylor, Jepchirchir Kiplagat, Busolo Wegesa and Eunice Kamaara.
The publication is edited by Naomi Luchera Shitemi (she passed away in 2013) and Eunice Karanja Kamaara, both of Moi University in Eldoret, western Kenya. It shall be available on a reduced launch price of Sh500 per copy.
The mouthful Wanjiku: A Kenyan Sociopolitical Analysis is the 10th volume of Goethe-Institut’s Contact Zones NRB book series whose existence is justified on the ground that market-driven and “purely profit oriented” publishers in Kenya wouldn’t be found dead near publications such as “art catalogues and intellectual perspectives on social reality in Kenya.”
Consequently, Goethe-Institut in conjunction with Native Intelligence, “publishes texts that are not likely to be taken up by other local and international publishers” in a series called Contact Zones NRB.
Well said, but does a series that is “dedicated to the protagonists of the East African artistic, activist and intellectual scenes” have to be couched in a flat, abstract and almost non-appealing language? Is the literature produced here meant to be consumed by the church choir—artists, journalists, critics and academics—or anyone who may be interested in “Wanjiku: A Kenyan Sociopolitical Analysis”? Why can’t it be functional and utilitarian? Why can’t the general reader or seeker of information find pleasure in reading such literature?
I wouldn’t say that many titles released by Contact Zones NRB would appeal to Wanjiku of Kenya unless, of course, Wanjiku is re-defined to mean artists, journalists, critics and academics. Could this, perhaps, explain why the local “purely profit oriented” publishers avoid publishing on such subjects that would be difficult to sell to Wanjiku?
Art catalogues—like Mwangalio Tofauti, Sam Hopkins, Peterson Kamwathi—are periodicals or single-shot publications that usually accompany exhibitions, festivals and other creative and cultural events; they are not necessarily printed in order to be distributed like books that have a long shelf span.
That is not to dismiss Contact Zones NRB. Only that it may consider redefining its publishing focus much more broadly to produce literature of universal appeal; publications that can be enjoyed by Wanjiku as they travel in matatu public service vehicles, wait for their tea and mandazi to be served in street corner cafes or wait for their turn to see doctors or village head men.
There is little doubt that writers like Mbugua wa Mungai who crafted Nairobi’s Matatu Men: Portrait of a Sub-Culture are talented. But they need equally talented editors, illustrators and designers to enhance the appeal of their message and make it more palatable to Wanjiku.