SEPTEMBER 2009 entered history books as the time when central Uganda (Buganda) was engulfed riots after a standoff between the central government and the traditional Buganda Kingdom leadership.
Around the same time, the annual Kampala iBook Fair was held when calm was restored in Kampala city.
Both events found in me in Kampala. When I returned to Kigali, I wrote a story in this column titled, “How about an annual book fair?” (The NewTimes, 22, September, 2009).
In the story, I made the case for a much deserved book fair in Rwanda by highlighted the benefits that would accrue from such an event.
I expressed my desire for the event that would bring together book publishers, booksellers and the general public to interact with one another.
I was therefore more than elated recently when different booksellers and publishing houses joined hands to turn my dream into a reality.
From 4th to 7th July 2010, Rwanda witnessed its first ever Rwanda International Book Fair 2010, at CNP St Paul, in Kigali. In other words, my prayers were answered in a period of less than five months. What more could I have asked for?
Walking into the exhibition hall at St. Paul was indeed an exhilarating experience. I felt spellbound just by looking at the colourful display by world famous publishing houses such as Oxford University Press and Pearson (Longman, Henemann, Ginn and Rigby).
Kenya was duly represented by Target Publications, Gabby Books, Kenya Literature Bureau, Phoenix publishers, Jimco Book services, Simplemar Publishers and Longhorn Publishers.
Originally based in Uganda but now with established setups in Rwanda, Fountain Publishers Rwanda and MK Publishers Rwanda were joined by Boflix, A-Z bookstore, Bakame editions among others.
The book fair received a sizeable number of visitors and a good number walked away with some books but more importantly contacts were established and numerous lessons were learnt.
Most of the exhibitors had wonderful displays of their wares and were generous enough to offer booklists, catalogues, as well as business cards to those who showed any slight interest in what was before them.
I also noticed that those with establishments in Rwanda were keen to offer directions to where they operate from in case a show goer so it necessary to visit them.
The book exhibition did enough justice to the question of where one can find books in Rwanda. The event which is set to take place on an annual basis should spark a thirst for knowledge that the publishers are more than willing to quench.
The cries of a poor reading culture that some people love to attribute to the scarcity of books is a notion that no longer be fronted.
As someone who had wished for this moment to happen, I often fund difficulty in striking a balance between being a teacher, booklover, journalist or simply a resource person to the exhibitors, many of whom were from Kenya and knew little about the book environment in Rwanda.
It was so interesting to see people checking out the different books on display and purchasing some of them in the end. There was an overstated air of ‘East Africanism’ in the exhibition hall where English and Kiswahili languages were being used more and more often.
All the while, I never shied away from expressing my gratitude towards the exhibitors who had made the effort to attend and thus be a part of Rwanda’s education history.
Much more credit goes out to Ms Lucy Kagendo Mbae who was the brains behind this historical event.
Like all things being done for the first time, there is enough room for improvement next year. The important thing is that the process is out of the blocks and we all ought to support it because we stand to benefit.
For those who missed this year’s book fair there is always a next time. My new prayer is that we all meet at the 2nd Rwanda International Book Fair next year!Follow https://twitter.com/ssojo81