Upon graduation from the former National University of Rwanda (Department of Modern Languages and Publishing) in 2013, Fiston Mudacumura embarked on a journey into the world of book publishing.
To advance this cause, he created a small publishing firm, the Mudacumura Group Company Ltd. However it wasn’t smooth sailing in those early days as the publisher explains;
“The company never launched its operations immediately due to lack of expertise in book publishing,” he explains.
In the meantime, he took up what he terms “an experimental job” in another publishing House -Bloo Books.
It’s from here that he was introduced to Rwanda Children’s Book Initiative, a project run by Save The Children International, and aimed at developing a local children’s publishing industry in the country.
“After two years and half of trainings and practice sessions, I was able to understand how the children’s book publishing industry works,” he explains.
By the end of 2015, he had a clear vision of where and what he wanted to do with his dormant company -Mudacumura Group Co. Ltd. His vision was to build a successful book publishing company that would contribute to building literacy and the culture of reading in Rwandan communities by publishing mainly in the local language.
He thus decided to change the name of the company to Mudacumura Publishing House Ltd.
In one year of operations, the company already boasts 26 book titles to its name, “and we’re still striving to grow our book catalogue,” he explains.
In 2015 and the following year, the company participated in the publishing process of Andika Rwanda, a writing competition that was organized by the Education Development Center (EDC), and the Rwanda Education Board, and sponsored by USAID.
Mudacumura however laments what he terms the low level of understanding of the concept of publishing by local stakeholders;
“When you tell someone you are a book publisher, they immediately assume it’s book publishing.”
“Mudacumura Publishing House Ltd provides a wide range of services related to the book publishing industry. For example, authors provide manuscripts and we turn them into beautiful books that the end users or readers will want to buy and read. Such services include basic training in creative writing for authors, editing, illustration, design, marketing and sales of books … anything to do with books,” he explains.
Mudacumura’s publishing house is a member of the Rwanda Children’s Book Forum (of which he is Secretary General), and Rwanda Reads community. Both organizations are devoted to the cause of building the literacy and reading culture in the country.
Taking it to the community:
This year, Mudacumura Publishing House is embarking on a pilot project for an eight-year community outreach program dubbed “Well of knowledge and fun”. The project seeks to turn public community water wells into fountains of knowledge and fun through offering books to the local communities from these water collection points.
At last week’s monthly community work (Umuganda), the publishing house headed to Rugari village, Gatenga Cell in Kicukiro district to kick start the project there.
As the community work got underway, books were availed for children and some young adults to read in an exercise dubbed Umuganda Literacy Challenge.
As part of the project, the publisher also dabbled in renovating the well and turning it into a point of sale for the books.
“The books at our points of sale will be on sale, but once in a week during the weekends, the points of sale will serve as community libraries where children and people from the community will come and access the books for free,” Mudacumura explained.
“We are still at the pilot phase, but once all goes well, we are planning to grow and reach the entire country in all 2168 cells. This will be an eight-year project within the 2025 vision of Mudacumura Publishing House. It will cost us between US$ 800,000 -1,000,000 depending on the rate and value of the money in the eight years to come.”
“I think this project will be useful to the children and all people of Rugari village, not only residents but also those from neighboring villages like Mahoro will also visit the center, read the books and even buy them. This project can help the whole country in promoting the reading culture and education at the same time,” remarked Kayitesi Appoline, the village leader.
But challenges still abound for this budding publisher; like lack of infrastructure;
“We do not have a strong distribution channel yet, although there are some people beginning to take up the challenge by investing in the retail distribution channel for books,” he explains.
“Like in 2016 we witnessed the birth of new booksellers like AZ Bookshop located in Downtown Bus Station, and Haepi Bookshop located at Ubumwe Grand Hotel.”
The other challenge he cites is that of limited investment incentives;
“The banking system is not very supportive of the book publishing industry compared to other sectors. There should be some banks willing to take young publishers under their wing to help them grow.
Otherwise it’s too difficult to secure a bank overdraft these days. I personally used to bank with BRD when it was still a bit commercial. They used to give overdrafts on Purchase Orders but since privatization of its commercial department things have changed,” Mudacumura further lamented.
But not all is doom and gloom.
“So far we are grateful that some people in government are starting to understand the importance of supporting and investing in the local book publishing industry. We request that they push and sensitize others in similar positions in this quest because we cannot begin to talk about a reading culture and high levels of literacy without a vibrant local book publishing industry.