The recently launched campaign by Rwandan publishers to ingrain a reading culture in the country is not only imaginative, but could not have been kick-started at a better time.
Themed “Gira Igitabo Aho Uri (loosely, ‘read a book wherever you are’), it is apt that the first full month of the projected year-long campaign should have coincided with December.
The aptness of the coincidence is that it should appear obvious that the long holidays that define the month present an excellent opportunity for adults and children alike to enjoy a book before work and school resumes in January. Yet this rarely happens with many of us.
Thus, the elaborate campaign targets homes as well as institutions and corporates, with an eventual launch of the Igitabo Bus Initiative to avail books in public transport service vehicles.
The bus initiative will be the first of its kind in the region, if not the world. And, if it successfully comes to pass, the multi-pronged campaign doesn’t get more imaginative than that. What is certain is that it will be tapping into the very definition of unabashed promotion and popularisation.
Yet the lamented reading habit is not a Rwandan malady. Name any year and there will be no lack of commentary in the media about a woeful reading culture across East Africa that has hindered most people from appreciating the value of books.
And, being a worldwide problem, it has inspired an entire area of study to understand what it must take to ingrain a culture of reading in our societies. It is, therefore, not just an African thing, the excuse often being given that our reading culture is weak because societies on the continent are predominately oral.
Reading culture has variously been defined as the interest and totality of reading habits that entail continued development and progression from one level to another, in the enjoyment and expansion of knowledge. This is influenced by various factors, ranging between the environment and a particular individual’s qualities.
Theorists agree that reading involves many variables, of which there are many types of reading making it a complex cultural system. It recognises that reading should be part of everyday life, not merely part of one aspect of a person’s life such as school or work, but reading as a leisurely routine both at home and outside home: That it should be about a culture where out of school reading is a valued habit among members of society. It envisages a socially integrated pattern of reading behaviour, practice, belief, perceptions and knowledge.
With government support, the campaign in Rwanda aims to encourage parents to include books in their household budgets, even as it encourages institutions and corporate organisations to encourage their “workers to read at least one book at reading corners.”
The proposed reading corners are reminiscent of reading tent initiatives. The reading tent is an old concept that has, in recent years, been adopted to promote reading as a leisurely and socially inculcated habit in both the rural and urban communities in many parts of the world. This is as opposed to the academic reading, but as a more pleasurable daily routine.
Thus the campaign also aims to encourage parents to include books in their household budgets. This is to bolster the effort to continually “feed” the reading habit and sustain it.
The campaign also aims to co-opt popular public figures to co-author stories with children into books that will mostly be in Kinyarwanda. If this succeeds in the years to come, it could be like Iceland, which, with a total population of around 330,000, has the most number of authors per capita, at around one author for every 10 Icelanders according to some estimates.
This is to say accomplishment of the campaign’s objectives is entirely within our grasp. When one thinks of the football “craze” among us, whether expended at our local stadium or the Premier League on TV, ours appears to be a culture that encourages spending leisure time watching or engaging in sports, if not in other recreational activities in bars and restaurants. And though these are usually social and not necessarily negative engagements, it is often at the expense of reading for leisure.
But the campaign also aims to remind us that though reading may sometimes be a private and solitary activity, it harbours the knack to stimulate creative intelligence with the worlds it opens up.
Let’s make the campaign a success.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.