AO. Questioning common narrative of Kenya as "not a reading nation"

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."


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