Thursday, November 22, 2018


By Alexander Nderitu

BANANA DANCE: Zakiya Iman Markland as Josephine Baker in ‘La Négrophilie’
Before Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Dorothy Dandridge, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross or even Muhammad Ali, there was another Black superstar entertainer - a woman unlike any other of her time -and her name was Josephine Baker. Her story has been told in film and documentaries and it has now landed in the live theatre world with a bang: in the form of two highly-acclaimed one-woman shows titled, La Négrophilie and Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play respectively.

Written and performed by Zakiya Iman Markland, La Négrophilie has been staged in several venues across the world, including: Frank Collymore Hall in Bridgetown, Barbados; Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali, Rwanda; Kampala International Theatre Festival in Kampala, Uganda and Teatro SEA in New York, USA.

In a description posted on her official website, the playwright describes the work thus:

‘In a very racialized 1910s America, Josephine Baker is both lauded and taunted for the brown hues of her skin. Despite being incredibly talented and beautiful, internalized racism displayed by people of her own race held young Josephine in a compromising predicament concerning success in the African American theater scene. Never light enough to pass the quintessential “paperbag” test (used by blacks at this time to test the lightness of one's skin/how much white or mixed-blood one had), she left the United States and found stardom in the “land-of-the free” Paris, France, where racism was…well, different than in the States. She became an instant success; a sex icon catapulting into the first major movie star of color, an aid to French Resistance during WW2, an activist for the Civil Rights Movement, and so much more.

But what happens to the soul when fetishization, and eroticization of the body is the price you pay for fame…for freedom? Shuttling 40+ years in time, La Négrophilie takes you on the twisty ride of young Josephine’s rise to international stardom, all the while leaving behind a trail of questions about the good, bad, and ugly of oppressive love.’

Meanwhile, Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play was created by Tymisha Harris (Performer), Michael Marinaccio (Director/Producer) and Tod Kibro(Book and Musical Direction). The one-woman show wowed audiences at the 2017 Fringe Festival (USA) where it scooped multiple honors, including 'Outstanding Production of the Year',' Best Leading Actress in a Musical' (Orlando Sentinel Critic’s Pick), 'Best National Show', 'Outstanding Female Performance' and 'Festival Top Seller'. In 2016, the show scooped the ‘Best of Fest’ and ‘Outstanding Solo Performance at Fringe Festival ‘in San Diego, USA.

Actress Tymisha Harris in Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play
 Born and raised in a racially segregated America, the real Josephine Baker started dancing professionally as a teenager. Her entry into the showbiz world coincided with the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ and at eighteen she got the opportunity to tour to Europe with her troupe of African-American performers. In Paris, France, where she gained instant recognition, a new show was devised for her: the ‘Dancer in a Banana Skirt’ (and little else). She became an overnight celebrity, instantly recognizable and highly paid. According to Time, a Hungarian cavalry officer and an Italian count fought a duel in her name in Budapest, in 1928. The sword-fight took place in a cemetery, in her presence.

Unlike the US, France had no Jim Crow laws and ‘madam la Baker’ did not face overt racism (she could live anywhere and patronize posh eateries, for example). She made Paris her home and would later lose her American citizenship (although she visited America severally and participated in the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s). In France - where she branched out into singing and acting as well - she became a fashionista and socialite. Several French magazines offered her fashion columns to write. Her super-shiny hair, that stuck to her head like a coat of jet-black paint, was a major point of interest. With regard to her better treatment in France than America (then in the throes of often-violent Civil rights demonstrations) Josephine said:

‘How can I forget it (receiving a hero’s welcome in France)? They made me forget the colour of my skin. All of my good friends. They were White!’

 In Germany, the now-famous Black female dancer created a sensation – and stirred controversy – after a series of performances in post-World War 1 Berlin. She reportedly received 40,000 love letters and 2,000 marriage proposals! She was eventually ejected from the Berlin nightclub circuit by socialist moralists who were offended by her highly sexualized stage act. During World War II, she zealously aided France’s war effort and was decorated for it after the hostilities. She proudly wore her French military uniform in peacetime, even while visiting America in the later half of the 20th century. She also, finally, managed to get moderate success and acclaim in the US, in her old age, performing in extravagant costumes at the hallowed Carnegie Hall.  US author, Darryl Pinckney (quoted in the documentary Josephine Baker: The First Black Superstar):

‘You have to think of Josephine Baker as a symbol that the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance could share. That in some way the White and the Black wings of this artistic movement that we could call “Modernism” could sort of meet in her, as a symbol.’

Michael Eboda, editor of New Nation:

‘She (Josephine Baker) exported the Harlem Renaissance to Europe. And for her to do that at that time, and do it so quickly! She moved to Paris and two years later, she was the highest paid (female entertainer) and most photographed woman in the world. That’s amazing.’

The real Josephine Baker in her hey day
(Photo: ThoughtCo)
 A staunch believer in universal brotherhood, Ms Baker spent her 40s and 50s adopting and taking care of 12 children from all corners of the world, whom she christened ‘The Rainbow Tribe’. After enduring soul-crushing racism in the USA and finding success and acceptance in France, she wanted to prove that all the races of the world could, in fact, co-exist harmoniously. Despite being wracked by ill health and with her fortunes declining, she was determined to make nonsense of racial segregation. Her words:

‘My little village, this little village of the world, is badly in need of financial support so I came back on the stage to make it possible for it to live on and on and on. Because it is very important, that little village. I have a lot of children from the four corners of the world who live there (in her French château). They are a symbol of true brotherhood. I must have the money for these children. The (château, which also doubled up as a tourist attraction) must live, it must not die. This village is too important. It represents a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful ideal. An ideal (that) must not die. It mustn’t.’

Sustaining ‘The Rainbow Tribe’ well beyond her ‘productive’ years put enormous financial strain on the former entertainer, and she spent the last days of her life on the breadline. Her impact on arts and culture, however, continued to be felt across the world, like seismic shock waves. According to the documentary film Josephine Baker: The First Black Superstar:

‘Josephine’s impact stretched way beyond the theatre. She entranced and inspired a generation of writers and artists in Paris, including Picasso, Hemingway, Collette and Seminole. Alexander Colder sculpted wire models of her, and Gertrude Stein imposed an affectionate tribute.’ 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

State Honours Literary Matriarch

by Alexander Nderitu

Veteran writer, businesswoman and broadcaster Muthoni Likimani was recognized, among other female ‘high achievers’, by President Uhuru Kenyatta, on August 23rd 2018. At a function held at State House Nairobi, the nation’s fourth President presented state honours to some of the women who have ‘championed equality and played big roles in encouraging other women’ to achieve more. ‘Kenya is a nation of strong women and we salute you,’ he said. President Kenyatta simultaneously launched the ‘trailblazer initiative’ whose remit is to identify and honour Kenyan women whose heroic works have significantly contributed to shaping the country. The awardees cut across political, social, economic and artistic sectors. Prof Leah Marangu, Muthoni Likimani and Mary Okello were conferred the Order of the Burning Spear (OBS) for their achievements in their respective fields. It is noteworthy that Ms. Likimani is the recipient of a previous Presidential Award, the Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS), which was conferred to her in 2008.

Muthoni Likimani, 93, is a prolific writer and motivational speaker and has given numerous public lectures at various fora, locally and internationally. A mother, grand-mother, and great-grandmother, Ms. Likimani is living history and has participated in numerous professions and held diverse positions in her long and colourful life. She has worked has worked as a broadcaster, teacher, publisher and author.  Some of her lesser known pursuits include being a beauty queen and a Councilor in the Nairobi City Council in her younger years. Her books include Passbook Number F.47927: Women and Mau Mau in Kenya, What Does a Man Want?, They Shall Be Chastised and Fighting Without Ceasing (a memoir).

In 2014, the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace (IFLAC) appointed Muthoni Likimani as their ‘Peace Ambassador’ in Kenya. Announcing the appointment, IFLAC’s Founding President, Prof. Ada Aharoni, posted on the organization’s official website: ‘Our new IFLAC PEACE AMBASSADOR IN KENYA, Writer Muthoni Likimani is a role model for all women leaders in our global village! Welcome to the IFLAC family dear Muthoni!’ On her part, an elated Muthoni said, ‘Quite often, my advice has been on using power of the pen, not guns, to fight for one’s rights.’ In her capacity as IFLAC’s local Ambassador, she sourced peace-themed submissions from local writers for an international e-book anthology titled ‘Anti -Terror and Peace: IFLAC Anthology’ (2016). The anthology consists of articles, short stories, poems and haikus from 93 contributors in 23 different countries around the world. The Kenyan contributors are Muthoni Likimani, Henry Ole Kulet, Moraa Gitaa, Alexander Nderitu, Njeru Kathangu Mtumishi, Gilbert Muyumbu, Grace Ebby, Francline Allan and Jacob Oketch.

Born in Murang’a County in 1926, Muthoni Likimani was lucky to get an opportunity to travel to the London School of Hygiene (UK) for a nutrition course in 1958. While studying in London, her fluency in the Kiswahili language landed her a job with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Ten years later, she landed in Jerusalem for training in journalism and broadcasting at Kol Yisrael college. On her return to Kenya, she worked for the Voice of Kenya (now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation) and started a marketing/PR firm called Noni’s Publicity. In 1994, she received the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) National Award ‘in Recognition for Exemplary Service to Women Advancement in Kenya’.  In 2005, she was awarded the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) Golden Honour Award for Outstanding Leadership of Service to the Public Relations Profession.                                            

Affectionately known as ‘Cucu’ (grandma) to young scribes, Ms. Likimani is also the chairperson of FEMTEL Women Writers Association, and the patron of PEN Kenya Centre which promotes literature and champions Freedom of Speech. 

Below are some photos from her eventful life:

Also a recipient of the 'Moran of the Burning Spear' award
TV interview with Jeff Koinange
With His Highness Emperor Haile Selassie

With Hon Tom Mboya

With Mohamed Ali
With Prof. Wangari Maathai

L - R: Muthoni Likimani, Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye (r.I.P.) and Alexander Nderitu

 The author of this article is a writer/critic and the outgoing Deputy Secretary-General of PEN Kenya Centre. he can be contacted at

Monday, September 10, 2018


Carey Francis (Photo: KResearcher)
‘When I asked mum a hard question she would tell me carrey francis didnt teach her.’
- Kenyan Inspired (@ygacibi12) replying to @KResearcher on Twitter

He was the inspiration for Kenya’s most expensive poem, ‘The Mathematics of Carey Francis’ ( Amongst colonial-era Kenyan settlers, this enigmatic educators’ statuture is so great, it is matched only by the likes of Lord Hugh Delamare, Karen Blixen, Lord & Lady Baden-Powell, and Blessed Irene Stefani. But who was Carey Francis when he was at home? Like a bat trying to determine the size, speed and solidity of an object by bouncing multiple sonar signals off the target and analyzing the feedback, let as examine information from various sources and see if it paints a sufficient picture of our person of interest…

‘Carey Francis was born at Hampstead on September 13th, 1897, and died at Nairobi on July 27th, 1966. He was educated at William Ellis School, Hampstead, where he showed extraordinary promise both at work and at games; he was Head of the school, and the captain of football, cricket, tennis, and athletics. He served in the First World War, holding a commission in the H.A.C., and being mentioned in dispatches. He came through the war unscathed and after the war, he picked up the scholarship to which he had already been elected at Trinity College, Cambridge…

His mathematical interests were mainly in the area of analysis, and he was much influenced by three Trinity mathematicians, Hardy, Littlewood and Pollard. In 1923, he was awarded a Rayleigh Prize for a substantial essay on the Denjoy-Stieltjes Integral, and two papers, “On differentiation with respect to a function: and on “The Lebesque-Stieltjes Integral” appeared in the Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in November 1925…He was a brilliant and immensely popular lecturer…He also served as Secretary of the Faculty Board of Mathematics…

His heart had always been in the Mission field, and his friends were not surprised when, in 1928, he left Cambridge and went to Kenya as a lay teaching missionary under the church Missionary Society. He first taught at Maseno, in Nyanza, and it was there that his pupils gave him the name of “Achuma” – the man of steel. But Maseno was only the training-ground for his real-life work, which was the Headmastership of the Alliance High School in Nairobi. This position he held from 1940 to 1962. It was here that his most important work for African education was done…Under his guidance, the school attained an almost mystical prestige, and to be a pupil of Carey Francis at Alliance was a highly valued and much-coveted distinction. More than half of the members of Kenya’s present cabinet are old boys of his school.’ – ‘Edward Carey Francis’ (essay) by L. A. Pars, Journal of the London Mathematical Society (1968)

‘His (Prof David Wasawo’s) brilliance was best summarised by Edward Carey Francis, the legendary headmaster who taught him at the Alliance High School in an interview carried in the Sunday Nation in 1965. When Carey Francis was asked who he thought was the most brilliant student he had ever taught, the man who shaped some of Kenya’s brightest minds at Alliance was prompt in his response: “Far and away, David Wasawo”.’ - 'Brilliant Scholar Who Lectured Into His Golden Years', Business Daily 

‘Nonetheless, Edward Carey Francis, the sixth principal (1928-1940) is the man most popularly associated with Maseno School. He was born on September 13, 1897 at Hampstead where he was also educated showing great promise as an all round student at an early age. His education was interrupted by World War 1 in which he also served with distinction.

Carey Francis proceeded to Cambridge University in 1919 where his academic, sports and leadership qualities blossomed. He was particularly gifted in the realm of mathematics, especially in its more abstract form, winning many awards at Cambridge for outstanding performance and originality. Joining the academic staff at Cambridge between 1922 and 1928, he was a brilliant and immensely popular lecturer, serving as a fellow of Peterhouse and director of studies in mathematics.’ – ‘Maseno School: The Giant That Started Beneath GumTrees' (article) by Douglas Kiereini 

‘His work was to mould obedient servants of the colonial system, not to create elites.’ – From the book, ‘The Kenyatta Cabinets: Drama, Intrigue, Triumph’ (2012)

'Edward Carey Francis left a glowing career at Cambridge to teach in a junior secondary school in Kenya. He wowed many with his numerical skills, but his temper and poor opinion of Africans were also legendary...The myriad theories aside, Edward Carey Francis’ move came at a time when he had the world in the palm of his hand. Ironically, Carey Francis’ molding of young Kenyans to serve her majesty’s government unwitting sharpened the minds that would later overturn British rule in Kenya. The echoes of his actions are still felt, half a century after his demise on July 27, 1966, at the age of 69.' - 'Math Guru,Magician And Man Of Steel' (article) by Amos Kareithi

'Whenever Carey Francis name is mentioned many remember two things; Mathematics and Alliance High School...No educator influenced the destiny of the country more than he did. No white person was as revered by Kenyans as Edward Carey Francis.' -

The author of this article can be reached at

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Worldreader’s LEAP 2.0 Report Launched in East Africa

Written by Alexander Nderitu
Photos courtesy of Worldreader

Kenya National Library officials, young students, and Worldreader staff at the launch of the LEAP 2.0 Report
On 1st August 2018, as Kenyans gladly said goodbye to an exceptionally wet and misty July, Worldreader and the Kenya National LibraryService (knls) released a report from a joint program dubbed ‘LEAP 2.0’. The LEAP (Libraries, E-reading, Activities and Partnerships) project brought Worldreader’s digital reading platform to 61 public libraries in Kenya. It took place over 3 years (2014 – 2017) and delivered 3,000 e-reading devices and over 600,000 e-books across Kenya. It was funded by the Bill & Melina Gates Foundation (BMGF). The ‘breakfast launch’ of the project’s findings was held at the Sarova Panafric Hotel in Nairobi and was attended by publishers, librarians, authors, Worldreader staff and journalists, among others. 

Registered in 2010, Worldreader is an international not-for-profit organization that was founded by David Risher, a former Senior Vice President, and Colin McElwee, a former director of marketing at ESADE Business School in Spain. 

Worldreader’s electronic library consists of 42,233 African and international book titles in 43 languages, including Kiswahili, Hausa, Arabic, English and Hindi. The library can be accessed through Worldreader-branded e-reading devices or through the Worldreader mobile phone app which is freely available from Google PlayStore. ‘Featured books’ in the library currently include The Angel of Mexico City by Aminatta Forna, The Girl With the Magic Hands by Nnedi Okorafor, Zvakwana by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Grandmother’s Winning Smile by Stanley Gazemba, The Ghost of Sani Abacha by Chuma Nwokolo and The Baobabs of Tete by Kari Dako. Thus far, over 6 million people from 50 countries have read from the digital library. Worldreader collaborates with device manufacturers, local and international publishers, government agencies, education officials, and local communities in order to boost reading worldwide. 


Members of the public are introduced to e-readers outside a knls branch

The project began with a one-year pilot (LEAP 1.0) which tested the use, function and adoption of e-readers in selected libraries in order to determine how e-readers affected library patronage, communities, staff, policies and procedures. The initial testing sites, in 2014, were eight public and community libraries located in Western Kenya, specifically Kisumu, Kakamega and Busia. According to Juliana Muchai, Principal Resource Mobilization Officer at knls, Western Kenya was chosen because Worldreader was already active in the region. 200 e-readers, each pre-loaded with 200 digital book titles, were deployed. The twin objectives were to increase availability of reading materials in public and community libraries and to promote reading using technology. The overall goals of LEAP were:

  • Building patrons’ technological skills
  • Improving literacy skills through reading
  • Attracting different age groups to the library
  • Building a reading culture at the library
  • Saving time lost during manual book identification processes
  • Enhancing the library’s public profile
The project was later scaled up cover the entire country through knls’ 61 libraries, hence ‘LEAP 2.0’. Lessons from Phase one guided Phase 2. The aim was to increase knls’ capacity to use digital reading to serve its patrons and to create a sustainable digital reading program. The initiative was supported by grants totaling $3.5 million received in form of equipment (e-readers), digital books and training.

Juliana Muchai, Principal Resource Mobilization Officer at knls
It is noteworthy that LEAP 2.0 was the first-ever project to cover all knls libraries, thereby achieving national scale, contributing towards the gov’t’s Vision 2030 (a local blueprint for industrialization), and creating a model that can be replicated in other countries, especially in the Third World.  Speaking at the report launch, knls board member Sam Madoka said:

‘It is pertinent on this occasion to take a brief look at the partnership that knls and Worldreader have had in the past 4 years with the inaugural LEAP 1.0 project back in 2014. The partnership with Worldreader has brought digital reading to the communities and transformed the reading culture in the grassroots. Libraries are cornerstones of our community, clearly, and public libraries are a place where literacy can grant those living around the library the ability to grow and develop their personal, social and professional goals.’

According to Joan Mwachi-Amolo, the Director, Worldreader, East Africa, ‘Worldreader and knls strongly believed that in order to move the needle on Kenya’s national ICT strategy and catapult Kenya to a new level of digital access and information sharing, it was necessary to harness and enhance the power of libraries.’ 

Once again, Sam Madoka:

‘LEAP 2.0 has had tremendous impact on knls and the community. Over the course of this project, libraries conducted outreach activities to institutions and members of society who were unable to come to the libraries – from hospitals to prisons to schools in far-flung areas, to physically disadvantaged homes as well as mental health institutions thus increasing knls visibility across the country…This project has changed the traditional role of libraries and helped them remain relevant in a growing digital age. Libraries are now disseminating information outside of their walls. This value-added service has helped them increase revenue due to patronage and facilitated perception change with the public in general…Libraries have been recognized for local and international awards for ICT-based  innovations. Innovations such as these have brought change in a local context, exposing knls to the pan-African global audience, benefiting generations.’

In 2016 and 2017, knls branches in Nakuru, Kibera, Kisumu, Koru and Buruburu emerged winners at the Library of the Year Awards (aka Maktaba Awards) in the Public and Community Libraries categories.  Thika and Nakuru Libraries received the EIFL Public Library Innovation Awards for contributing to education, and creative use of ICT in Public Libraries.


‘Harnessing the power of libraries’: Schools were the biggest responders to digital devices in libraries.
‘Libraries are not just for reading any more,’ said Kaltuma Sama, the soft-spoken Head Librarian at knls Buruburu. ‘There has been a paradigm shift in what libraries are all about…Librarians are no longer the desk librarians. Librarians go out to disseminate information. We go out with the e-readers and reach as many schools and settlements as possible. The introduction of the e-readers has had positive influence inside the library as well as outside. We have been able to reach children in areas that normally cannot be reached. My library works with children in Kamiti Prison...We give them the e-readers and let them have a normal, comfortable hour with us. We also reach children in remand, like Buruburu Remand Prison. These are what are often called chokoras (street kids). When they are taken off the street, they are taken to remand prison and then to court…We sit on the floor and read to them…The membership of my library has increased, patronage has also increased…Schools normally come for a (pre-booked) slot…’

Kaltuma Salma, head librarian at knls Buruburu
Sejal Shah, Worldreader Board Chair, Kenya also chipped in on this one-of-a-kind outreach: 

‘knls Buruburu takes readers to prisons, knls Embu takes readers to hospitals, and Meru knls to special schools. Congratulations to them!’

Sam Madoka, whom we were informed has a hidden talent for singing, added:

‘Before, outreach typically involved a librarian going out of the library with as many books as they could carry. But now, that is different. The introduction of readers changed outreach opportunities as librarians were now available to travel with hundreds of books at a time instead of dozens.’  

Two Trainers of Trainers (ToT’s) from each library were coached on e-reader technology and they, in turn, trained their colleagues. The librarians were trained on E-Reader Basics, Project Management, Patron E-Reader Training, Project Launch, Monitoring and Evaluation, Sustainability and Worldreader Mobile. The librarians then went out on ‘outreach activities’ and loaned out the e-readers 250, 807 times during the project period. Library membership increased by 38,604 and users checked out e-readers a total of 314, 414 times.

A section of the audience
Two uniformed school children from Grandstar School gave glowing testimonials of their experience at the knls Buruburu, which they frequent. The grades of Wanja (11) shot up after she discovered the joys of reading, with the added bonus that she stopped being a notorious class noisemaker! Njeru (13) formed a book discussion group with fellow library attendees his age, and became ‘fascinated’ by all things Indian after discovering the country in a book. ‘Juniors’ (young children) made up the bulk of e-reader users and library attendees. They borrowed the devices an average of 1,200 times per month while adults borrowed an average of 480 times per month.

According to UNESCO, there are 740 million illiterate people in the world today, and 250 million children of primary school age who lack basic reading and writing skills. 


Lawrence Njagi, Chairman of the Kenya Publishers Association
Kenyan publishers were ably represented at the gathering by veteran publisher Lawrence Njagi, CEO of Mountain Top Publishers and Chair of the Kenya Publishers Association. ‘I am very excited with the partnership of Worldreader with publishers and now knls (the Kenya National Library Service),’ he said. ‘We like calling knls our “mother” because, not only do they support us financially, but they also stock and display books for us free of charge.’ He went on to say that:

Worldreader has been a godsend for publishers. We have our books in very many platforms and I will tell you that the one platform that publishers are very confident about is Worldreader. Two reasons. One, publishers exist to make money. We’re profit-making companies. They (Worldreader) make us profits. Secondly, they provide us with data. Data that tells us where our books are going, in which markets our books are more popular, how many of those books are selling, reports, and most importantly at the end of the day – payments…There are some platforms where we have hosted our books. We get statements saying we’ve sold (units) but we’re still yet to see the cheque.’ 

Kenyan publishers have been grappling with a 16% tax on educational material, including books, which successive KPA bosses have insisted is counter-productive to the nation’s development as a whole. One strong argument is that the various components that go into the manufacturing of printed matter are already individually taxed so there is no need to place yet another levy on the final product. The previous KPA Chair, David Waweru of Word Alive Publishers, once told a press briefing that the gov’t is itself the biggest buyer of school books and is therefore also taxing itself! Lawrence Njagi, also addressed this thorny issue:

‘We must make books, whether in digital form or print form, affordable. We are one of the few countries in the world that is taxing information. How is that possible? It is like taking a gun and shooting your own leg, to see how far you’ll bleed, and then you take yourself to hospital to get healed…Information should be easily available and affordable to everybody. That, I think, is the difference between ourselves and developed countries: the power of information. Why do we want to put 16% VAT on our books? Why do you want to put duty on the (e-reading) gadgets as the come in?’


‘There was lack of data connectivity in some areas’

Some librarians felt that the new digital division and its outreach program constituted ‘extra work’ and, naturally, that is something that employees eschew.  The ‘extra work’ was especially evidenced by the Monitoring & Evaluation forms that the librarians regularly had to fill. Other challenges included:

  • Inadequate number of devices
  • Lack of data connectivity (phones, network) in some areas
  • Data collection (Handwritten, entry time, self reported)
  • Device allocation
  • Some resistance to technology
  • Need for more resources to support outreach programs


Outcomes of the LEAP project include:

  • Increased library patronage (by over 60%) and outreach programs by over 80%.
  • Acquisition of over 3,000 devices
  • Acquisition of close to 1M e-books
  • Out of the success, partners bought additional devices for some branches (Kibera, Meru & Isiolo)
  • Loss or damage of the devices was extremely low: 98.5% of the devices were fully functional which translates to a breakage/damage rate of just 1.5%.

Impact of LEAP:

  • 178% increase in library patronage
  • Over 20,000 patrons reached through e-reading
  • 254 library-related community events
  • 84% of patrons reported increased reading habits 

Other interesting Worldreader statistics:
  • 79,302 school readers have been reached by Worldreader since 2010
  • 31, 326 e-readers have been deployed
  • 5,340,511 e-books have been delivered
  • In 2017 alone, readers spent 29 million hours reading content on Worldreaders’ mobile phone library and e-readers. This is the equivalent of reading Tolstoy’s voluminous masterpiece, War & Peace, 900,000 times over!
  • Worldreader has thus far distributed USD $1.5 million to more than 400 publishers around the world for digital rights, boosting local publishing ecosystem and cultures.
The African countries Worldreader has been most active in are Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Liberia, Togo and Cameroon.


Joan Mwachi displays the next-generation of e-reading technology

The next phase of Worldreader’s library-centric propram is dubbed LOCAL (Local Content for African Libraries), and focuses on local language content and library activities for young children across Ghana, Uganda and Zambia. ‘Worldreader is proud of the success and impact of the LEAP 2.0 project and of knls’ dedication to its libraries, librarians, and patrons,’ says Rebecca Chandler-Leege, Worldreader’s Chief Impact Officer. ‘In the coming years, Worldreader plans to iterate upon the lessons of LEAP 2.0 and our knls partnership, to launch nationwide library digital reading projects in new geographies. We are excited to see the continued impact of digital reading on individuals, communities and countries.’

Joan Mwachi, Worldreader Director for East Africa:

‘What’s next after this project is replication of the model, from the learnings that we have had. We are doing that in Ghana, Zaire and Uganda. We need to look at libraries as centres of development…We leverage technology and we will continue to do so…Technology also allows the production costs of traditional print books to go down. Our next step is to continue to integrate technology with traditional methods because we’re already digital. It’s not the future – it’s here…And then advocacy for digital reading. If I take the example of the e-reader, it has 200 books. Picture carrying 200 books everywhere you go. By having this library, we are creating opportunities for access to information on a platform that is easy to use and affordable…We have a product that we’re working on. It’s tablet-based. It’s going to operate on Android (operating system). The product is called “Worldreader Student”.  It’s a single-purpose device, basically just for reading. We’re testing it…So there is opportunity for us to collaborate much more, with gov’t and other partners.’

The next steps in Worldreaders’ mission include:

·         Developing trainers to support project implementation

·         Securing knls commitment of resources to sustain the project – personnel, financial, content

·         Improved service delivery overall, through motivated librarians

·         Increased book stock to better serve the needs of patrons

·         Integration of ICT programs using basic manipulations skills acquired

Richard Atuti, knls Director
And the knls has some forward-looking plans of its own. Richard Atuti, knls Director:

‘I have been engaging the book industry for quite some time now and we have these portable devices, we have technology but we are not able to give nationwide coverage in terms of access to information.  But the Kenya National Library Service Board is having an ambitious program to establish a virtual library…And we have been working on this idea even with big players in the private sector whom we want to partner with because we realize we don’t have a platform, we don’t own content, and we need other players to give us that accessibility.  For us, we will manage the content, as the National Library, and that platform is to have a system where we can store all the books the publishers have in this country. And there are three functions that will be integrated in that system. Number one, you register with the National Library. You can borrow books online from wherever you are…If you borrow this book and it lands in your device, after a week or so, that content should be able to lapse from your device. It’s not transferable, so that we protect the content. The second one is…we want to create a semblance of Amazon in this country whereby we can sell books on their (publishers’) behalf. Because they don’t have one single synchronized platform where they can store content which can be sold to any customer. And we have borrowed heavily from the practice in the market now…Using that platform, someone can be able to buy a unit or a chapter of a book which is relevant to what they need at that moment at a very subsidized rate of 50 shillings, 100 shillings, 150 shillings. Lastly, they (publishers) spend so much to print physical catalogs for you to know what is available in the market. But now, what we have in mind is to give them a free platform. We display and market books for you. We shall be giving them free marketing.’

Austin Okoth, the event’s MC, ended the ceremony with an elegant zinger: ‘Read and let read!’

I leave you with more scenes from the LEAP 2.0 Report Launch:

The launch meeting took place at the Sarova Panafric, Nairobi

Delegates arriving at the venue
Joan Mwachi, Worldreader’ East Africa Director displays a copy of the LEAP 2.0 Report
Sejal Shah, Worldreader Board Chair, Kenya makes some remarks
Some of the delegates
Perusing the report
L – R: Richard Atuti, Joan Mwachi, Sam Madoka
L – R: Sam Madoka, Sejal Shah, Joan Mwachi, Richard Atuti
Worldreader Kenya staff members
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The author of this article is a Kenyan writer, e-book aficionado and arts critic. He can be reached at

View / Download the Worldreader LEAP 2.0 Report here:

A paper titled ‘Digital Reading in Kenyan Libraries: Lessons from Pilot to
Scale’ (about how Worldreader brought the LEAP project from pilot to broad
scale adoption) is available here:

Official Worldreader website: