Nairobi has been celebrating books this week. Book lovers have been making a bee line to the 21st Nairobi International Book Fair, which opened its doors to the public on Wednesday. Like in previous years, the fair is being hosted at the Sarit Centre and is scheduled to close tomorrow.
This year’s theme, 'Books for Nurturing Skills,' backs up the new competency-based education curriculum that is expected to be introduced next year.
Mr Lawrence Njagi, the Kenya Publishers Association chairman, says reading not only has tremendous power when it comes to fuelling the development of all aspects of language, its importance to a person’s life cannot be overstated.
“At KPA, we believe that books are the single most important item that contributes to an individual’s personal growth and advancement,” he told Saturday Nation.
During the official launch of the book fair on Thursday, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development’s (KICD) director, Dr Julius Jwan, was among the guests invited. The curriculum designers and publishers worked hand-in-glove to come up with and implement the curriculum’s pilot phase this year.
The year, the fair organised by publishers will also engage teachers and learners to show how the new books will help them improve their abilities, away from the current curriculum which emphasises reading and examinations.
Ms Mary Maina, the NIBF committee’s chair, said there were physical and digital books for both abled and learners with disabilities.
“We have to make sure the disadvantaged in our communities are not left behind. The essence of the new curriculum is that it is all-inclusive,” she said.
ODM party leader Raila Odinga was the chief guest during the launch and he encouraged Kenyans to take up not only reading, but also urged new writers to come forth. He asked the government to also help finance publishing and educational activities.
“People should take up the opportunity and write their own stories through memoirs or biographies. Let’s not wait until after we are long gone for writers to start scrambling to put together your story; they might write a very funny story,” he said.
Ms Maina said the reason that publishing houses had skilled editors was the precise reason that they would help out anyone who felt the need to write but didn’t fully have the skill. She said writers, young or old, should not hide their manuscripts because there is equal opportunity for all.
“If you can write one or two chapters, then we can help you write 10. You can have a small book or even a large novel in the end because books are of different sizes, depending on the market you’re targeting,” she said.
The government, especially through public schools, was asked to encourage reading for leisure. The library lesson, where children are supposed to read for pleasure, is rarely implemented in public schools. Instead, the lesson is taken up by other “core” subjects and children are denied the opportunity to discover the enjoyment of just reading for one’s satisfaction.
Ms Maina also challenged parents to encourage children to read during their free time, and not necessarily for exams, and only watch cartoons or movies once in a while.
However, Lucas Wafula, the head of publishing at East African Educational Publishers Limited, also pointed out that the new curriculum would be best placed at making Kenyans re-embrace their local languages that had been made to seem inferior to English.
“English is an inevitable consequence of being colonised by the British. However, it should not be a reason to abandon what defines us as Africans and Kenyans for that matter. It is about time we praised our children for being able to speak Dholuo, Ekegusii and Kigiriama,” he wrote in an article in Book News: Book Fair Edition.
Mr Wafula noted that the Constitution requires the State to “promote and protect the diversity of the people of Kenya, and promote the development and use of the indigenous languages …”
Local authors had complained that they were not being given a platform to promote their work as much as established authors. NIBF invited authors to be on the programme and gave them an opportunity to talk about their works.
Individual publishers, however, had the discretion to invite as many of the authors published under them as they wished to interact with the visitors.
“We beseech all local authors to also come to the book fair; it is a large exposition area and there is not really any restriction on them bringing their material to get feedback from people. As an author, you can even get publishing ideas at the book fair,” said Ms Maina.
Another concern by the authors had been about how publishing houses put all other types of printing on the back-burner while they were prioritising the printing of books for the first phase of the new competency-based curriculum.
The launch of novels, biographies, books on culture and other non-school books have been limited as the major source of income for many publishing houses remains school text books.
Henry Munene, a freelance publishing consultant, pegged this down to the time, human resource and the general heavy demands of producing text books for a State-sponsored programme.
“Often, the submission of documents (for new curriculum support material) have timelines that require compression of the time necessary to produce good books … The madness, as it were, means editors and editorial and production staff have to work long hours to submit the books to KICD on time,” wrote Henry in Book News: Book Fair Edition.
NIBF chose Mr Odinga as also part of the local authors’ fraternity. His two biographies have been published locally which showed that he values what local publishers have to offer.
The book fair is financed wholly by the publishers through their association because of their zeal to promote the reading culture nationally. Attendance is free to the public. The book fair is the biggest in Africa, having recently surpassed the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in the size of the expo space and number of exhibitors.
This year, all the available space was taken up and by yesterday, the turnout had been impressive, with school parties leading the pack. Every year, KPA also organises regional book fairs that take books closer to the other counties.
“This year we had the Kericho Book Fair, something similar to this but smaller. We have also been to Machakos, Bungoma and Mombasa, and we plan to continue because we see a lot of excitement from locals about the books. Next year we are planning to be in Mombasa again,” said Ms Maina.
China, India among nations represented
Besides local publishers, exhibitors at this year’s fair include international publishers like Zhejiang Publishing United Group, The MERSIN Foundation for Science and Culture.
There are also printers from India besides educational and publishing firms from China.
Others are cultural entities including the State Department of Culture and Arts, and The Institute of Kiswahili Studies (University of Dar -es-Salaam).
The organisers are hoping to have a huge turnout of about 26,000 visitors to interact with their materials, give feedback and buy books to stock up their home libraries.
Their biggest hope, though, is that Kenyans get to interact with the new curriculum materials.