Rwanda is a beautiful country. It is located in East Africa. Maybe it is the country where you live. Or maybe you are learning about a new country. Let’s learn about Rwanda from A to Z,” reads the introductory remark on the first page of the book, The ABC’s of Rwanda.
The book was e-launched last week to a rather warm reception. It is a collaborative effort between Dominique Uwase Alonga, and an American friend, Kelly Burke. Uwase is the founder and Managing Director of ‘Imagine We Rwanda,’ a local organization that encourages and facilitates literacy among young Rwandans.
The organization is based in the city suburb of Kacyiru, where it also runs a community library.
Like the title suggests, The ABC’s of Rwanda is a basic illustrated introduction to Rwanda to the first time reader and to the curious Rwandan alike.
The country’s story is summarized in a simple A-Z narrative, with each letter of the alphabet representing a key feature of Rwandan life.
The first letter, A stands for the Akagera National Park;
“Akagera National Park is in the East of Rwanda. It has a river, lakes and many trees. It is home to many animals …” reads the opening text on the first page. The book is sparse on text and heavy on digital illustration, the work of budding visuak artist Sebastien Iradukunda.
On this particular page one can see giraffes, kob, an elephant plus an abundance of lush flora.
Through the course of the alphabet, one encounters familiar features and patterns of Rwandan life; bananas, cows, dance, family, gorilla, hut, imishanana, Kigali, sorghum, tea, umuganda, and volcanoes.
“Y is for yego. Yego means ‘yes’ in Kinyarwanda. Children and parents and grandparents all say ‘yego’ in Rwanda …”
At a casual glance it’s easy to dismiss the book as one for children, which in a way it is:
“It’s not necessarily a children’s book, but the ABCs of Rwanda, for Rwandans to see what we appreciate about Rwanda, and for people who want to know about Rwanda,” explains Uwase.
“Because the original vision was for children, the English is quite simple, but as we started work on the project we realized that it opens more doors for even tourists to learn about the customs of Rwanda, and what Rwandans really care about, in a fun way.”
Asked why she opted for an e-launch as opposed to the conventional venue-and-crowd launch, Uwase explained;
“We wanted to do something different so we used social media and all the digital platforms and communicated to people that it was now out in bookstores. So we are leveraging the power of social media. So far the feedback is good. People are excited and we’ve received a lot more positive than negative feedback. We love the fact that we’ve improved on our English compared to the first book that we released.
We came up with a new storyline and one of the things about which we are proudest is that Rwandans are really proud of the work but also tourists and foreigners can relate. It’s really good we were able to strike the balance between Rwandans and non-Rwandans.”
This is the second book to be launched by Imagine We Rwanda. The first, Oh Rwandan Child was launched in October last year.
So far the book is available at Ikirezi Book Store, Meze Fresh Restaurant, Kasa Keza, and Imagine We Rwanda.
“We’re in talks with the airport so that it can be available there as well, and it’s only been one week since the book was released,” explained Uwase during this interview on Tuesday.
The book goes for Rwf 6,000, the same price for the first book. Evidently this price tag is quite high for the average Rwandan student;
“We’re in talks with international organizations and NGOs in Rwanda so that they can buy the book for small communities in Rwanda, and they’ve shown interest. We’re hoping to talk with RDB because we really think this is a very touristic book customized to Rwanda so we hope that we can get into the network of tourism,” Uwase explained.
“We’re also talking to schools because they need this book in their libraries and so far international schools have been very responsive but we hope to get help to make it more affordable for public schools and other lower under privileged schools.”
The digital version is available to online buyers on Amazon.
“We’re also doing international shipping and so far we have shipped to the US, and we’re doing East Africa as well (Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and the DRC). So far Uganda is the biggest and in the DRC nothing has happened yet in terms of shipments.
We hope to keep encouraging member countries in the East African Community to learn about us because this is very Rwandan, and it’s Rwandan in a fun way. It’s not a political book, it’s not a genocide book, it’s also not too kiddish, it’s just a way to know what Rwandans care about,” Uwase further explained, adding;
“We hope to release four books this year, so we have three more to go. Every quarter our goal is to release a book. Our next book to be released in April will target teenagers so it’ll be a bit of a novel, and then in July we’ll have a novel for fully-fledged young adults. As we keep growing we add pages and content. Each sale of a book is re-invested into future books. We accept manuscripts from young writers. If you feel you’ve the talent, then write and contact us and we see the potential in it. The first book came the same way.”
Oh Rwandan Child’s manuscript was written by Peace Kwizera, the Miss Rwanda 2016 runner-up.
Ultimately, the vision of Uwase and Imagine We Rwanda is to partner with other Africans to create stories that can be cross-cutting in every African nation.
“e want to challenge the West to see the true image of what we see. Our vision is to change the African narrative context. When we started this we wanted Rwandans to feel like they were reading something they’re proud of and that wasn’t written by a foreigner, but then we realized this is not a problem that is unique to Rwanda but a lot of African countries as well,” Uwase concluded.