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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Uganda’s reading culture resting under the rocks


Do we have a reading culture? Have politicians conspired to keep us ignorant and poor by not availing helpful reading materials? Is Okot p’Bitek truly our only literary genius? And when is the Nobel Prize in Literature coming home?

Those were some of the questions during celebrations to mark the World Book and Copyright Day at the National Library of Uganda on April 23.

From Julius Ocwinyo to Glaydah Namukasa, Ugandan novelists, poets and short story writers shared impassioned views on the art of reading and writing in Uganda. Guests were also treated to a reading session made interesting because it was the first time many writers came together to read from their works.

They agreed that our reading culture is hampered by lack of public libraries in the country and insufficiency of books in many schools and homes.
Someone recalled a district official who strongly opposed the idea of constructing a library in Moroto District, arguing that it would be a waste of resources.

Organised by the National Book Trust of Uganda (Nabotu) and the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite) together with the National Library, the occasion was used to praise authors for sacrificing their time to think and write.
Lack of public libraries and books in homes and schools has contributed to the poor reading culture among the youth in Uganda. FILE PHOTO

“Books have the power to transform individuals and the country as well. Reading helps people refresh their thinking and ideas on what it means to be a citizen and how they can contribute to the country’s development,” Nabotu Executive Secretary, Charles Batambuze says.
Citing Doreen Baingana and Monica Arac de Nyeko among other Ugandan writers who have previously won international literary awards, Hilda Twongyeirwe from Femrite said the passion and ingenuity of Ugandan authors has reached a level where a Nobel Prize would not be surprising.

And Glaydah Namukasa, who had read from her novel, Voice of a Dream, the 2006 winner of the senior category of the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, said works by modern Ugandan authors are popular in the African sections of universities abroad.
Julius Ocwinyo says: “Obviously, Okot p’Bitek cannot be the only literary giant to emerge out of Uganda. It’s just that we have not done enough to market our writers and their works to far audiences.”

Ocwinyo should know better. After all he works for a publishing firm, and his novel, Fate of the Banished, is doing well in the academic circles for it’s among the very few local works on our A-level Literature syllabus.
The audience’s love for books was reflected in their worry over the apparent detachment between local and home literature.
Maybe literature from Uganda lacks that single element that boosts one’s energy to read to the last page.

Echoing the theme of the event: Books for Life, it was concluded that a love for reading and writing will be aroused through more and well equipped libraries and schools, having many Ugandan books on the national curriculum, translating the best of the available literature into local languages, reducing the price of books and training writers, illustrators and editors to improve the quality of books.

It’s up to us to surround ourselves with books and study them avidly, and maybe one day in retrospect, we shall realise it was one of the best moves.

--Saturday Monitor, May 2, 2009