What does preserving history for our future generations demand of us - to read or to write?

It is as paradoxical as that. For example, what is more important comparatively, the capacity to read or the capacity to write? The questions are paradoxical and end up with little or no answers, and calls to mind the chicken and egg enigma; which comes first?

It is as paradoxical as that. For example, what is more important comparatively, the capacity to read or the capacity to write? The questions are paradoxical and end up with little or no answers, and calls to mind the chicken and egg enigma; which comes first?

But If you cannot write (which is obviously the most demanding), then read what others write.

For a readily discernible reason therefore, the part about writing is usually ignored whenever the absence of a reading culture in Rwanda falls under discussion. So what is all this hype about a reading culture?

Perhaps it may be traced to the land of the blind where a one-eyed man is the king. This can be evidenced to the fact that in Rwanda literate levels are still demanding. We should therefore not be blamed for talking about reading and not writing because we need to read first before we think about writing.

At the beginning we do not care about what people read provided they develop the attitude. They may read text books, magazines, newspapers, or internet material. That ability alone empowers them to filter the society’s literature and pass it to the future generation. The absence of a reading culture is therefore absurd and leaves us with little hope for the future.

The learned and therefore the ones that read are more likely to make it to the higher echelons of the social stratum than the illiterates.

The promotion of the culture of reading would perhaps create a balance. What we read is definitely of utmost importance because with the onslaught of globalisation, some culture may be standing the risk of obliteration.

Unfortunately, since time immemorial, Africans have generally preferred word of mouth as the medium for transmitting information even across vast stretches of time.

This dependence on oral literature has evolved into what appears to be an innate disinclination towards reading, and its implications paint a grim picture for future generations in as far as cultural preservation is concerned.

Africans are not entirely to blame for this continued dependence even when they have finally learnt how to read because certain technological advances seem to encourage it.

Who wants to read a newspaper when he/she can tune in to Radio Rwanda or BBC? Who wants to read about the genocide when they can watch documentaries about it? But again this cannot be an excuse! It is understandable that at the African level at least we are not capable of depending on soft ware and electronics. They are very expensive, not available and very few can operate them even if they were given to them freely. The best alternative we have is to read the papers we have and possibly stock them safely for future use.

If the developed world is still using the same system, why not sub-Saharan Africa?
Nonetheless, by acknowledging the absence of a reading culture, a presupposition is made about the existence of readers and a writing culture.

The readers are few but not insignificantly so. Perhaps they may even be excused for not being so keen on reading because in a world teeming with billions in the struggle - survival for the fittest - there are lots of alternatives to draw their attention. The other question is, even if they had the time and motivation to read, would any and everything be worth reading? And when it comes to writing the dreams die plainly.

Besides the valiant efforts of our esteemed journalists, very few of our learned people seem to value the culture of writing. After innumerable taunts about the absence of an African history stemming from the late introduction of writing onto the continent, one would assume that we are eager to put this skill to good use.

There are so many lessons we as a people have learnt over the years and which deserve to be preserved for posterity.

They say that history repeats itself, and perhaps one of the reasons is because those who live it first, forget to record it and leave their successors with no signposts to lead them around past mistakes; they consequently fall into the same potholes. Rwandans for example would love to read about the upheavals in the dramatic history of Rwanda and not those in France or elsewhere.

We have read about Napoleon the great general and found him interesting, only because he apparently has no rival in our historical archives. No one can ever be convinced to read anything that is of no relevance to their society.

Rwanda has gone through quite a load of experiences from the first time a European stepped foot on our land, and it would be a pity to see all these experiences fade into the oblivion of the past when they would be of great interest to future generations who may never know the glory of her kingdoms, the pain of her divisions and the survival of her nationalism against all odds.

We are a blessed monolingual society unlike many of our regional neighbours who still have to grapple with dependence upon a foreign language for communication amongst themselves.

As much as we need a reading culture, we equally need a writing culture that may stand as a record of bits of our history as we live it, so that it can be shared across space and time.

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