There is need to reinvent African reading culture

13Nov 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
There is need to reinvent African reading culture

On Tuesday this week the third-phase President Benjamin Mkapa unveiled his book ‘My Life, My Purpose’ at a function held in Dar es Salaam.

We congratulate Mkapa not only for providing Tanzanians the insight of his life and presidency, but also he might be spurring confidence to potential book writers – the commodity that had been fast disappearing.

Several years ago, when launching a Book Festival in Dar es Salaam organised by Tanzania Book Council (Bavita) the then Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal threw a challenge to authors in the country to write books which would be marketable to all sections of the community instead of sticking to school teaching books.

He revealed what has been the truth until this day – that the nation was hurting for lack of a reading culture among the people, as a nation without readers was like “dessert without fruits”.

The situation is near apathetic – young and upcoming authors have almost failed to produce books and distribute them to the market probably because they don’t know the demand of their target customers or because this time many people read intensively when faced with examination in order to get certificates or jobs.

In fact we doubt whether the country still has authors of note, no doubt because of the invasion of satellite TV, Internet etc, that saw the reading culture within the general public all but disappeared in the country.

Kenyan renowned author Ngugi wa Thiongo whilst on a visit to Tanzania several years ago also aired his misgivings on the diminishing of reading culture among Africans and that such a phenomenon was detrimental to African development.

He believed that the root causes for this state of affairs was donor dependent funds, which perpetuated many Africans to depend more on books authored by Europeans than by Africans. He said that was precisely a way of maintaining neo-colonialism on the continent.

So as we embark on the reinvention of the reading culture we should also endeavour to decolonize and emancipate ourselves from these external literary forces.

For Tanzanians, it is a challenge to our authors and policy makers. Many books we use in schools especially in higher education institutions are still imported from abroad.

Many prestigious bookshops in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere in the country have vanished over the years due to the disappearance of readers. In 1960s and 70s, one would witness young people, including students in commuter buses reading novels by English authors such as James Hadley Chase, Earle Stanley Gardner or Alistair Maclean.

That is of course history, as our people now opt to watch English Premier League matches on TV or Hollywood films. This has contributed to their poor mastering of the English language.

As stated with the spread of satellite TV and use of Internet, coupled by the availability of many online books, local authors thought they can now breathe since whatever is needed in class can be obtained online.

But even what is posted online has been written by a particular author and so there is no reason to give in. In fact, it calls for more creativity and use of talents so that the local authors can also emerge as best book writers.