Friday, August 2, 2019


ADEA workshop group photo at Parkinn by Radisson Hotel
I knew I was in for an international experience the minute I entered the conference room and spotted translators in a glass booth at the back. The gentleman I sat next to had passable English but was fluent in French,  coming as he did from ‘the other Congo’ (Brazzaville as opposed to DRC). The event was the ‘High-Level Regional Workshop on National Book and Reading Policies in Africa’, organized by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) in collaboration with the Ministry of Education of Kenya and the African Union Commission (AUC), with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Global Book Alliance (GBA) initiative. It took place at Parkinn by Radisson Hotel in Westlands, Nairobi, from 17th to 19th June 2019.

Albert Nsengiyumva - Executive Secretary of ADEA
Key issues addressed during the event included African literacy rates, indigenous languages, publishing, education, the AU-backed Continental Books and Reading Policy Framework, and working towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 as well as Vision 2030 goals. The workshop was officially opened by Dr Belio Kipsang, Principal Secretary in the Kenya Ministry of Education’s State Department for Early Learning and Basic Education. He pledged to ‘deploy all resources necessary to formulate and implement a national book and reading policy for Kenya.’ Dr Silvester Mulambe, also from the Kenyan Ministry of Education, observed that, ‘Most learning is informal. The library is an extension of that. The library brings the whole world to the room. We are willing to work with partners to create a thirst for reading among the youth.’ 

Prof Kimani Njogu - Director at Twaweza Communications

Linda Hiebert, the Global Book Alliance Senior Advisor, said that the ‘GBA is supporting the development of reading amongst children…Over 600 million people globally are not getting access to education in a language that they understand…(Our) mission is to ensure that children everywhere have books.’ The issue of vernacular languages has always been a ticklish one in education and publishing circles. There appears to be a general consensus that preserving ethnic languages is important but not commercially (or politically) viable for most languages. ‘Indigenous publishing cannot be left to individual publishers,’ Prof Kimani Njogu, a Director at Twaweza Communications, said. ‘It needs a larger, government-involved ecosystem. Local-language books are hardly visible. Local bookshops rarely stock them. There are a lot of local-language manuscripts and writers but few willing publishers due to the costs involved.’  He added that he was pleased that Kiswahili learners in tertiary institutions are now required to write their Masters and PhD theses in Kiswahili. ‘Basic proficiency for reading exists. For cognitive academic proficiency, the language skill level needs to be above average,’ he said. Among the delegates was Ms Joan Mwachi, Worldreader’s Regional Director for East Africa. Worldreader is a nonprofit organization that distributes digital books globally, in 52 different languages. She identified the ‘barriers to reading’ as lack of access to relevant books, lack of awareness, and limited proven models in the distribution of literature. Digital, she said, offers convenience and on-demand content. But even on the mainstream publishing front, all hope of indigenous publishing is not lost. The CEO of East Africa Educational Publishers, Mr Kiarie Kamau, said that EAEP has published texts in six local languages: Kikuyu, Kamba, Maragoli, Dholuo, Giriama and Ekegusii. ‘Africa has 2,000 local languages,’ he said, ‘Some of which are dying. One language in the world dies every fourteen days. Most languages are too small to sustain commercial activity.’ 

Joan Mwachi - Worldreader Regional Director for East Africa
The workshop was organized into different sections, including speeches, presentations of papers, and group discussions. The main topic of discussion was the draft Continental Book and Reading Policy Framework. Ruth Makotsi, a publishing consultant, observed that the quest for national book policies in Africa began decades ago, spearheaded by UNESCO. ‘Most African countries only have a text book policy,’ she said. ‘A Book and Reading Policy goes beyond textbooks.’ The draft policy, which was studied in-depth in the discussion sessions with attendees being encouraged to identify inadequacies and customize it to their national needs, indeed goes way ‘beyond textbooks.’ The 28-page document dated ‘June 2019’ begins with an Introduction that details the quest for a comprehensive policy and the current state of things. It reads, in part:

‘The value of general, cultural and, even, scholarly books remains unrecognized. In the few countries where some progress has been made towards developing a more expanded book policy, such effort has tended to be driven mostly by the private sector. Consequently, national governments have been reluctant to ratify policy documents originated outside of their administrative or political structures.’
As a writer, I was glad to find numerous references to authors and authorship in the draft. Section 2.5.1 of the document is titled, ‘Development of authorship’ and its stated objective is to ‘Support, promote and protect African writers.’ It postulates various strategies in aid of this, including establishing a book development training institute for authors of all categories and age groups, mainstreaming creative writing as a curriculum subject from primary level of education, establishing and supporting literary awards, enforcing copyright laws, establishing and supporting African writers’ associations, and developing author-promotion channels such as journals, media and book launches. Veteran Kenyan publisher Henry Chakava suggested that the African Union should spearhead the policy framework to and from there it cascade to member countries. ‘We cannot create a reading culture without bookstores and libraries,’ he said. On the challenges facing indigenous publishing, Mr Chakava said that countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden ‘have small populations but thriving publishing industries. Why not African nations, some of which have tribes larger than the aforementioned national populations?’ Mr Albert Nsengyumva, Executive Secretary of ADEA, encouraged each country to enact a book-reading policy that encourages reading and creates ‘an enabling environment for learning.’

Henry Chakava - Chairman at East African Educational Publishers Ltd
The diversity of nations represented at the meeting offered insights into the different publishing landscapes on the continent. According to Catherine Uwimana from Rwanda, until recent years, there were no literary associations to speak of in her country. This contrasts sharply with Kenya which has had myriad reading, writing and publishing associations for decades, some of which have now run out of steam. However, we still have vibrant associations, such as the Kenya Publishers Association and the Kenya Booksellers Association. The main reason associations fold, Mr Chakava said, is due to heavy reliance on donor funding. Once the funds dry up, so do the organizations. A Tanzanian delegate said that many bookseller and library associations in her country were ‘existent but inactive’. She described the Tanzanian National Book Council as ‘moribund’ and said there was a general lack of an ‘institutional policy framework’. A Cameroonian representative agreed that associations/institutions work hand-in-glove with a policy framework. He suggested that national book councils should be co-ordinated by ‘a continental body.’ According to Mr Elliot Agyare, President of the Ghana Book Publishers Association, no African country appears among the top 65 nations in the world literacy index. Illiteracy is high due to lack of a strong reading culture compounded by the difficulty many Africans have trying to provide books for children at home. ‘Reading is an enabling skill,’ he said. ‘The economic, social and political health of a country is dependent on literacy…In politics, the illiterate are misled…Books and libraries are not a governmental luxury.’  Mr Agyare commended the First Lady and various celebrities of Ghana who have taken up ‘reading projects’ to raise their nation’s literacy level. ‘(African) citizenry are capable of existing in a knowledge economy,’ he said. A speaker on Day One of the conference had described Africa as having ‘twelve per cent of the world’s population but only contributing one per cent to the world’s knowledge economy.’

Elliot Agyare - President of Ghana Book Publishers Association
After the curtains closed on the workshop, Mr David Waweru, CEO of Word Alive publishers, described the event as a ‘significant milestone for books and reading in Africa. The Association for the Development of Education in Africa, African Union Commission, Kenyan Ministry of Education and partners USAID and Global Book Alliance made significant steps towards the ratification of the Continental Book and Reading Policy Framework.’ 

Elliot Agyare - President of Ghana Book Publishers Association
The ‘High-Level Regional Workshop on National Book and Reading Policies in Africa’ brought together 42 delegates from both Francophone and Anglophone African countries. We came away with a clearer understanding of the pivotal role the book publishing industry plays in a knowledge economy, the importance of government participation, and the need for comprehensive National Book and Reading Policies. A pan-African spirit flowed throughout the event. Despite the different backgrounds, languages, and ideas of the delegates, there was overwhelming support for the promotion of quality education for national development. Moving African nations a few notches higher on the world literacy index is something my new friend from ‘the other Congo’ and I can shake hands on, despite the language barrier.

I'll leave you with a few more images from the event:

Elitha van der Sandt  – CEO South African Book Development Council
Daniel Chebutuk Rotich - Professor of Publishing Studies at Moi University, Kenya
Gbadega Adedapo - President at Nigeria Publishers Association
Henri N’koumo - Minister of Culture in Côte d’Ivoire
Kenya Publishers Association Chairman Anthony Njagi
Dorah Kitala and Joan Mwachi
Alexander Nderitu is the Deputy Secretary-General of Kenyan PEN and a Business Daily 'Top 40 Under 40' Award winner. Website:

All photos in this article are courtesy of Lily Nyariki/ADEA


  1. Two ways of solution avoided, the DIGITIZATION and MUTUAL EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES SHARING, wondering intentionally or on purpose! To ensure that children everywhere have the same quality and relevant books access to grow equally in knowledge and development, sharing them is the only way forward otherwise, deprive yourself of others' knowledge, disable learning environment! Find it expensive, try on the illiteracy, already went with devastating consequences! Agenda2030, Agenda2063 started yesterday and we're late, UNITE to catch up!

  2. Digitize books and make them available on cell phones? That might get their attention.