Nairobi International Book Fair

‘To Promote the Reading Level’

When the 24th Nairobi International Book Fair (NIBF) opened late last month, local publishers said they were feeling hopeful.

After a difficult period during the COVID-19 pandemic, the current government, elected in 2022, has maintained a favorable policy toward education. What’s more, the advent of a new professional rights trading initiative organized by the Kenyan learning platform, eKitabu, was a first stepping stone toward buying and selling rights to other African countries and beyond the continent.

As Publishing Perspectives spoke to publishers in Nairobi, several trends emerged.

In Kenya, where a large majority of publishers produces educational or children’s books, the numbers of fiction writers and readers are increasing, but despite the demand, few traditional publishers see fiction as being financially viable without government partnerships. All publishers agree that government policy and support is also essential to foster a reading culture.

A number of publishers say they’re increasingly concerned with producing material in local languages so that Kenyans can preserve the linguistic richness of their society—this in a country where the writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o once was jailed in the 1970s by the post-colonial government for co-writing a play in his mother tongue, Gikuyu.

And lastly, piracy continues to be a debilitating problem for publishers, having expanded into the digital domain beyond print.

Agatha Karani: ‘There’s a Need for Fiction’

Kenya Publishers Association council member Agatha Karani took over running the educational publisher Bookmark Africa, which was founded by her late husband Solomon Kakai Karani, a former general manager at Longman Kenya. Bookmark Africa began by publishing children’s books in Swahili and English, then educational books, moving on to adult and children’s fiction.

Karani says that educational books support what they would like to publish more—fiction—but that for the moment, beside five novels, they only have manuscripts in digital form. Business has been tough, she says, and until recently she has been struggling to stabilize the company her husband left her, now with the help of one of her sons, Erastus.

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by Olivia Snaije, Publishing Perspectives

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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