AO: Carotenuto and Luongo (2005) point to the Mau Mau reparations and Maasai Land treaty as two key reasons why members of the public, even those who may be illiterate, have been frequenting the archives.
In the last few years, members of Kenya's public have increasingly drawn on the KNA's resources to do their own historical research about two contentious issues: Mau Mau reparations and the Maasai Land treaty. In the wake of heated international discussion and popular dis- course about the possibility of the British Government offering repara- tions to Mau Mau detainees, elderly ex-detainees and their relatives are visiting the KNA with the hope of finding family names in the colonial detention records, thus making them eligible for reparations if such funds indeed become available. Second, with the recent expiration of the con- troversial Maasai Land treaty, an agreement through which the British colonial government acquired Maasai lands for settler development for a period of 99 years, elders from Maasai communities are searching the KNA collection for information to aid their campaigns to reclaim the leased lands.
AO: This excerpt from the interview highlights the thinking by Ukombozi library leadership about form, format and language choice in scholarly publications in order to engage with a working class Kenyan audience.
...the form of its publications also reflects the needs of the intended audience. One aspect of this is the language of publications – as imperialism seeks to downplay information and culture in minority languages, focusing on English. Thus our last publication was a dual-language one, with articles in Gujarati and English. One of our forthcoming books – Tunakataa! –is a dual Kiswahili-English collection of resistance poems. This language policy also enables us to reach a readership we would not reach if we published in English only.
In a multi-lingual, multi-nationality country such as Kenya, Vita Books also recognises the importance of the availability of different types of resources. We are interested not only in historical topics, but also in arts, culture and literature. One of our future books is a collection of poems and future plans include a collection of short stories by young people struggling for survival in a hostile and unequal society.
Format is also important to Vita Books. The first two booklets published in 1986 (by Ngugi and Durrani) were small format easy to read booklets which could be carried around and hidden from special branch officials on the lookout for ‘subversive’ material.
In keeping with its aim of making alternative ideas and experiences available, Vita Book set up the Notes and Quotes Series which are presentation slides on specific themes that are easy to read and follow. They are available, with other material, for free download on the Vita Books website.
The need is for working people to own and control magazines and book publishing so as to reflect the world from their point of view. Development in new technology may provide one way out for them.
Urban youth have their own language, culture and lifestyles. Empowering them to develop magazines can have a dramatic impact on national reading, learning and entertainment.
An important factor in book publishing is the content of books published. Most are aimed at an affluent, relatively well-off people with spending power. Yet there is an unsatisfied need to reflect lives of working people, which remains only partially fulfilled. Addressing this issue can increase demand and boost the publishing industry and people’s reading at the same time.
Public libraries can also play a more active role in encouraging reading and writing of fiction, but are limited by government policies.
(Shiraz Durrani and Kimani Waweru)