A friend in the academia last year travelled to Nairobi to deliver a public lecture in one of the famous Kenyan Universities.
In the middle of his talk, there was a point emphasising that one cannot be a good writer without reading extensively. He also reiterated that communication skills are among other benefits that come along when one reads.
It is argued that through reading, humans have the tools to transmit knowledge to each succeeding generation; it allows one to listen to the wisdom and people of the ages. In the Holy Bible the Apostle Paul admonished Timothy, “study to show yourself approved unto God”. Islam holds acquisition of knowledge in high esteem.
Unfortunately, in Africa reading has continued not to be our preference. This is not a new story and reason for it has been backed up by different myths. A number of columnists have all along sensitized people from the breadth and length of our continent to arise from the poor reading culture but gains are still too little to smile about.
For Rwanda it is often said that part of the reason is related to our colonial past. That the Belgians did not inculcate in their subjects a reading culture but there is also, the fact that Rwandans are great conversationalists.
Our stories are incredibly rich. They range from the usually exciting Champion league to domestic and current affairs. Our people are great analysts. You cannot beat them in this game.
You will even hear someone who may appear none-descript commenting confidently about the policies of Barrack Obama in the Middle-East or his current visit or the recently concluded elections in Uganda.
But in all this you will find no sign of scholarly material: No newspaper, novel or magazine or books in form of a novel anywhere in the vicinity. I must add that now at least we have one major public Library which our young generation is using. This is a positive step in the right direction.
In the temperate Northern Hemisphere, the contrast is all too clear to a visitor. Whether in a train or bus or a boat or even in the air, rarely would you hear much going on by way of conversation that may disrupt or disturb other passengers.
The reason may be that everyone is to himself or herself and God is to them all. Each and every one is busy reminiscing either over the vagaries of life or simply leafing through an interesting novel or book, newspaper or magazine.
Back here in Rwanda, and indeed many parts of the East African region, people are not bothered about reading.
First as observed, reading is not rooted in our socio-cultural set up.
People wake up on week-ends and the first thought in their minds is to speed to the nearest pub come the evening. You hardly find reading activities on week-ends. Not even much of attendance in our Kigali Libraries.
The opening of Kigali’s public library a few years ago was historical and step towards instilling urge for reading, but still the number of people trooping to the Library is not pretty impressive.
While I may understand why the semi-literate and illiterate people have no interest in reading, I cannot understand why the so-called elite have no interest in reading either.
Is it distorted education which our colonial masters bequeathed to us? Or is it our culture and way of life which is to blame. While blame may be apportioned in unequal terms, I should point a finger not only at the colonial masters, we have ourselves who have some level of academics to blame.
Still, it is not easy to decipher clear answers to these and other questions. One thing however which is clear is that at the heart of development lies a deliberate effort on the part of society to be inquisitive and establish fact from fiction.
We cannot afford to continue to put folklore and oral literature at the fore front when we know how much time we have already lost in the race to development.
As one novelist, Elizabeth Hardwick cited, one of the greatest gifts is passion for reading. ‘It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, and it gives you knowledge of the world and the experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination’ Making any possible efforts to inculcate the reading culture will not only bring personal benefits but also to a country at large. We cannot discharge our responsibilities as citizens of a democratic society if we do not have a reading culture.