“This will never be a civilized country until we expend more money for books than we do for chewing gum”, by Albert Hubbard. This great quotation from Hubbard is still relevant today as it was at his time.
The quality of civilisation and development we envisage and dream about is inextricably tied up to how much we value knowledge and information. There is no doubt that Rwanda has gained impressive strides in her development endeavors and this is generally spread across the country.
This is exactly what I witnessed last week while on my tour of duty in the Southern Province where I spent a few days crisscrossing districts in this region. The infrastructure development and other numerous developmental initiatives are visible in the respective districts in this region.
Compared to a year ago when I last visited the area, one would appreciate the efforts made in this direction. For example the road that connects Gisagara to Huye has been upgraded, Gisagara district moved to her new administration block.
Rural electrification programme in the remote district of Nyaruguru is giving local residents hope and confidence of a brighter future. The list goes on and on.
However, what is noticeable in this part of the country like it is in the other regions is lack of libraries and Bookshops even in the urban centres.
It’s always believed that Huye/Butare is a zenith of intellectualism in Rwanda- “abanya Butare bavukana amashuri atatu y’ isumbuye” – loosely translated to mean people from Butare are born with a certain level of education – hence a competitive edge over other people from other parts of the Country in terms of education.
This view was always reinforced by the fact that Huye is a home to the country’s oldest university which existed as the only university in this country for a long time.
To reinforce the intellectual supremacy in this region, the founders of the university had set up a university bookshop which is seated in middle of Huye town.
Though it is a normal practice for a university to have a bookshop, not all universities observe this. A university bookshop reinforces the mission and vision of such an institution as a source of knowledge and easy access of information.
Above all, a university bookshop plays a key role by bringing knowledge closer to the people who need and use it most- students and lecturers. Similarly, given the lack of bookshops and libraries across the country leading to lack of a reading culture, we expect institutions like NUR to be at the forefront of breaking this intoxicating virus to intellectual development that continues to plague our society even in the 21st centuries!
To emphasis the importance of bookshops Albert Mohler once mused thus; “If the college you visit has a bookstore filled with t-shirts rather than books, find another college.”
Ironically, NUR found it inconsequential and irrelevant to maintain the university bookshop, which has since been turned into a food store!
Yes, the NUR Bookshop has been turned into a food store to sale rice, soap, sugar, beans etc! The signpost at what was once a university Bookshop now reads “ Huye Food store”! Oh what a contradiction, what a mess? Do we still need to look elsewhere to find out why NUR performed poorly in the recent webometrics university rankings?
With such a scenario, how do we infuse intellectual development within the framework of one of the components of vision 2020 that strives to have Rwanda as knowledge based economy?
Given the fact that the symbol of what was once a source of knowledge and source of research has been sacrificed and raped to sale cabbages and tomatoes!
There is a saying that knowledge doesn’t chase people; people chase knowledge and information. Surely, if the university is sacrificing her bookshop to sell salt and cabbages, where will people chase knowledge and information from?
Finally, NUR management should reconsider their decision of leasing out the bookshop to food sellers (surely something can be done?). Our society is still a book desert, Huye is lucky to be a home to the university that owns a bookshop in the middle of the town which should not be sacrificed to sell foodstuffs!
There are many food stores in Huye, but there are no Bookshops and libraries.
Turning the bookshop into a food store contradicts the university mission “to generate and disseminate high quality multi-disciplinary knowledge and promote effective research, skills training and community service for national competitiveness and sustainable socio-economic development”.
The bookshop should be reinstated, expanded and upgraded to help and encourage people access and acquire books easily.
The writer is an educationist, author and publisher