Studies recommend that in order for children to learn to read and enjoy it fully, it is vital that they have access to books that are appealing and appropriate for their development.
Also, children who have a solid foundation in their mother tongue adapt to other languages more easily.
It is in this context that the Ministries of Education, and Sports and Culture and other players have been encouraging local writers and publishers to write and publish books in local languages to fill the existing gap of Kinyarwanda reading materials.
Initiatives like ‘Andika Rwanda’, an annual national competition for writing children’s stories and poems, have a great impact on the children’s book industry in Rwanda.
‘‘Andika Rwanda’’ gives children with writing talent a chance to get their books published and later distributed in schools.
In separate interviews with The New Times, different stakeholders in book writing, publishing and sales expressed different views.
Fiston Mudacumura, the proprietor of Mudacumura Publishing House, said he is passionate about writing. Within a year as a publisher, Mudacumura has been able to produce over 15 books which he multiplied into 20,000 copies.
“The market is still small. We get orders from the government and interested non-government organisations. Individual buyers are still reluctant and, in most cases, even the few who purchase books for children mainly buy academic textbooks and less of non-academic content,” Mudacumura said.
He added that, as a budding industry, local publishers are facing many challenges that need concerted efforts between the government and other concerned stakeholders to address.
Grace Gyr- Ukunda, the founder of the Edion Bakame, a children’s book publishing firm, said the country needs more dedicated writers and other people interested in the book chain (author-illustrator-publisher-printer-book-shop-reader), to be able to satisfy the market .
“Based on our experience of 21 years in children’s book publication, children are really interested in reading. The problem is scarcity of material to read,” he said.
“Publishers usually print from out of the country which makes the books expensive. Local printing houses should reduce the cost of printing so as to help facilitate publishers produce as many books as possible.
‘‘We also encourage investments into the industry,” he added.
Gasana Mutesi, a books marketer, said, thanks to awareness campaigns and book exhibitions, things are getting better.
Many people are getting to buy books and the issue at hand is getting a variety of book titles in the local language.
Stephen Mugisha, the president of the association of Rwandan publishers, said that they are doing a great job as local publishers working together with different partners to make sure there are many books produced in Kinyarwanda.
More than 20 publishing companies are currently operating in Rwanda, and children’s books are a priority for almost all of them.
“The country has passionate and skilled writers and publishers and we complement each other to reach our goal of improving the culture of reading. We also have partners that offer us training and financial support,” Mugisha said.
He added that, for example, with support from Save the Children, they produced more than 200,000 copies in the year 2015/16 which were distributed in schools and libraries across the country.
Oleg Olivier Karambizi, the advisor to the Minister of Sports and Culture, said the government’s role is mainly in awareness campaigns, providing trainings and workshops.
“People have to treat writing as business like any other. The environment here is conducive, what we lack is creativity. Those who can write should use their talent without waiting for financial support from the government,” said Karambizi.