AO: In this quote, Maranga implicitly argues that through the promotion of reading, libraries can help to raise consciousness. Here, he explicitly mentions consciousness raising amongst religious followers. This seems to align with Ukombozi library founders beliefs, but they would probably qualify Maranga's statement by highlighting that which reading materials are available matters and that libraries full of non/irrelevant materials will not contribute to consciousness-raising.
Since reading empowers, this will help eliminate exploitation of earnings, political violence (from brainwashing and religious/political rhetoric) and a saviour mentality from the masses. It will allow the people to exercise their individual will in the most responsible ways and as a collective, have a better society.
AO: This is a rich paragraph from Wanjiru's blog post that raises several issues. First, she identifies a common public narrative about how Kenyans do not read. I have also often heard some version of the sentiment: "if you want to hide something from Kenyans, put it in a book." Wanjiru critiques this common refrain, asking who then all of the great Kenyan authors have been writing for if not for Kenyan readers.
Second, she notes the impact on the libraries after a governmental shift in priorities when primary education became free (again; at independence, the Kenyan government began to implement free universal education but the World Bank structural adjustment programs led to cost-sharing programs from 1989 - 2002 when many students dropped out).
"... all unanimously agree that the reason the library is in its current state is because past governments did not value reading. ‘We are not a reading nation,’ Jacob [the librarian] says, repeating the phrase that I have heard often and struggled to accept. Did we really go from queuing down the street to enter McMillan, to being described as a nation that doesn’t read? And if we are such non-readers, who did prolific writers such as Grace Ogot and Ngugi wa Thiongo write for? I remember the library of the government primary school in which my fellow students and I were expected to spend an hour everyday. The library was the only building that was open after school and on the weekend. Everyday for eight years, we were taught that reading was a basic need. I went back to my primary school a year ago and asked to see the library. My beloved library was now a dilapidated storeroom for old, poorly catalogued books. The only attempt at updating the space was the addition of a plywood partition that allowed half the space to be allocated to living quarters for the school matron. When free primary school education was implemented in 2002, building more classrooms naturally became more important that maintaining libraries. But one wonders if libraries will ever become a priority again for a country still struggling to pay its teachers and seeming more eager to secure its position as ‘Africa’s Silicon Savannah’ by providing free laptops to Standard One pupils."
AO: This quote by one of the co-founders of Book Bunk highlights the important role that libraries (should) play in consciousness raising and intellectual formation of Kenyans.
In a country that has the kind of history that we do, there will always be more urgent things than libraries. How do you make the intellectual formation of a people an urgent matter? Libraries have a huge role to play in that.”
– Angela Wachuka (Book Bunk co-founder)
Source: Meet Book Bunk. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaITRjXBf5I.
AO: Mnjama (2003) seems to suggest that archival sites are important for accountability of the government and civil servants. He views public record keeping and archives as a mechanism for greater transparency and sees the National Archives as playing a key role in training and oversight of smaller archives within the government. He sees this as the real value that KNA could offer (so that it doesn't just become a "purely cultural institution" or dumping ground for documents).
In his conclusion, he mentions: "Poor record keeping has been cited as one of the major areas through which corruption has been thriving." He provocatively asks: "Is this an indication of the National Archives' failure to play its supervisory role effectively, arguing that "perhaps the time has come for them to assume a leading role in auditing records management practices throughout the entire Civil Service, comparable with what the Auditor-General's office is presently doing." He cautions: "Failure to do so many result in the National Archives remaining a purely cultural institution, with no meaningful role to play in assisting the government to achieve its objective of being transparent and accountable to the public through effective management of its vast quantities of information holdings." (100)
AO: The sentiments articulated below echo what my ongoing fieldwork has also revealed, particularly surprising given that I have been engaging with researchers in Kenya. Even amongst local and foreign researchers based in Nairobi, KNA is not seen as a go-to resource. During my visits to the archives, the majority of users appear to be Kenyans from media and think tank organizations.
...the archives remain largely unknown and vastly underutilized by the majority of the Kenyan public. Staff members state that few of the thousands of people passing by the KNA each day have any idea of what the archives are or what they can offer. Indeed, on explaining that they do research at the KNA, the authors have been asked by countless Kenyans, "Where are the archives? What do they do there? Who can use them?" Even students from the University of Nairobi, located scant blocks from the KNA, rarely use the archives' resources. Unfortunately, there are very limited resources for outreach and publicity, restricting the staff's best efforts to market the KNA.
AO: This quote to me highlights the importance of avoiding progress narratives because in the nearly 15 years since this article was written by two American graduate students, the Kenya National Archives that one encounters today contradicts this rosy picture of it as the "leading archives on the continent." Without discounting the good work that they continue to do, the one or two person team available to assist in retrieving materials using the one functioning computer now seems in stark contrast to the ninteen trained archivists described in 2005. This highlights to me the importance of government, funder, and community support for the un-sexy and "un-innovative" maintenance work over the long-term.
Since its move to Moi Avenue, the KNA has developed into one of the leading archives on the continent. Today the institution employs nineteen trained archivists and an overall staff of close to 100, responsible for maintaining over 1.5 million documents along with thousands of microfilms and photographs. (2005, page 447)
AO: This excerpt from the interview describes why Ukombozi Library was seen to be needed -- especially highlighting the perceived gap in progressive content in publically accessible libraries and learning institutions. Ukombozi is able to fill this gap through content such as the donated underground library originally set up by Nazmi Durrani.
The need for such a library follows from the fact that progressive literature has over the years been ignored by most institutions — libraries as well as learning institutions. Young people with passion to bring about improvement in the country and thirsty for materials that would inspire them in their quest for social justice get disappointed as such materials are hard to come by. Public and academic libraries have been deprived of funding by government policies and survive mostly on donations from overseas. While many such donations are of good quality material, as for example those donated by institutions such as Book Aid International, they reflect a capitalist worldview and obscure the fact that alternative systems, viewpoints and ideas that may be more relevant to Kenya exist. These remain outside Kenyan boundaries since they are not part of the donated packages.
The few available materials can only be found in bookshops and are too expensive for the majority of the population, especially the youth. The problem is made worse by the fact that most of the bookshops tend to shy away from storing those materials as not many people buy them, concentrating more on fast-moving academic books instead.
In contrast, PALIAct has an initial collection of almost a thousand titles of progressive materials, mostly books but also pamphlets, videos and photographs. It incorporates DTM’s underground library set up by Nazmi Durrani and donated to the Movement on his untimely death by his family. A majority of these are classics are either out of print or cannot be found in the local bookshops. Other material has been donated by the Mau Mau Research Centre, Vita Books and many individuals active in the information struggle in Kenya.
(Shiraz Durrani and Kimani Waweru)
AO: The quotes re-posted here emphasize the importance of memory and the role of (re)-evaluating library and archive materials in terms of who they are serving. How to catalogue and add meta-data and add new material for the specific user group(s) that you hope will discover and use the materials you sit on? The co-founders' emphasis on the retention of history -- even if it might be inconvenient or uneasy for some -- is particularly noticable set against a country context where the recent past has been characterized in (critical) public discourse as one of "forget and move on."
“It is very important to us that we have African authors represented here,” said Wachuka (one of Book Bunk's co-founders), who wants to rejuvenate the collection rather than removing references to white colonialism.
“Book Bunk want to keep that history because it is important — the building wouldn’t be here if it was not for McMillan — but also mix it with our history,” added Koinange (Book Bunk's second co-founder), surrounded by piles of books gathering dust in an archive room.
“The goal is to increase the circulation of stories in the city,” said Koinange. “Libraries are where stories live.”