Poverty is really ‘killing the reading culture’ in Kenya as one Stephen Opana pointed out in the Saturday Nation June 27, 2015. This ultimately leads to national ignorance as poverty is a national disaster. You realize poor reading culture is a national scourge when you listen to students/pupils who have just done their national exams – they are quick to quip that they have ‘finished’ or ‘cleared’. Books are strewn around, even burnt. There is no reading after one leaves school and that’s why ‘interestingly, you will find bars and drinking dens full of adults, but only a handful in most libraries without ever reading a book’.
Our nation is, sadly, divided into haves and have-nots, and this is not breaking news. The have-nots have got no otherwise than to avoid books after school. For a person earning less than a dollar, sometimes nothing, a day, when they get that dollar they will go to buy food and other basic necessities.
Without blaming corruption and other economic crimes for our national ignorance due to avoiding books after school, reading the same book a hundred and one times won’t add anything new, and that’s why many people avoid books after school because they can’t afford to buy new ones when they have much more important and life-pressing issues to attend to. So, our national ignorance will go on, and the few who read are the loudest on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms liking what others do, retweeting and sharing others’ posts, and updating their complicated statuses.
I believe that to increase reading culture in Kenya, reading for entertainment should be encouraged to children at tender age. Muthoni Garland’s Storymoja Africa has been on the forefront of this if the success of their Read Aloud events is anything to go by.
Moreover, writers need to interact with their young readers, not to market themselves but to encourage readership and build a relationship with them. The young readers would identify more with a writer’s works if they have met, and know, the writer in person. Once that culture is inculcated into the young minds as they grow, they will not be saying ‘I have cleared’ after doing national examinations. They would be seen in our endless trademark queues in matatus, banks, office receptions, city council halls, and other places with that ‘unputdownable’ book lost in their own worlds.
Readership is what would raise literary standards and improve the poor reading culture thus eradicate our national ignorance, but this cannot be achieved by naked people on empty stomachs. The poverty leviathan has to be slain first.