Building a Nation of Literate Fools  

Posted by Tumwijuke Mutambuka in , ,

Library – a building in which collections of books, newspapers, CD, etc. are kept for people to read, study or borrow.

The Rwandan government is in the process of establishing its first public library. Its FIRST public library since INDEPENDENCE.

I was appalled at this finding. An entire country without a single public library in this day and age?

Oscar Kimanuka, a columnist with The EastAfrican newspaper blames the setback on Belgian colonialists who did not bequeath to their subjects a reading culture. In the December 4, 2006 edition of the paper, he argues that it was part of the colonial strategy to keep Africans illiterate.

Being from the egoistic Big Brother of the African Great Lakes Region, I couldn’t help but gloat that for once, Uganda is better than its neighbours.

“Huh, and they say Uganda is still an underdeveloped country? Where would that put Rwanda?” I reasoned to myself with pride.

After all, isn’t Uganda the country with record numbers of enrolment in primary schools and doesn’t it boast of 65% literacy figures?

Literate - the ability to read and write.

Time to eat humble pie.

Is the fact that Uganda has at least 15 public libraries spread throughout the country a cause for pride? Are the country’s literacy figures really anything to boast about? Is Uganda really better than her neighbours?

My search for answers led me to several shocking facts.

My first point of call was to a webpage published by Daniel J. Cook, a Fulbright scholar who visited Uganda recently. While I was aware that Uganda’s public libraries are in an appalling condition, nothing could prepare me for the absolute horror that is depicted on Dr. Cook’s Public Libraries of Uganda picture gallery.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. Ah, Dr. Cook. How true.

From Arua to Kabale, Masindi to Moroto to picture was the same. Derelict buildings, rickety desks and chairs, no bulbs, torn books, empty shelves. Totally empty shelves.

Does it matter that Uganda has more than 65% of its population able to read and write when there is nothing for them to read – and therefore nothing for them to write about? Is this a country breeding educated illiterates?

Decay - the gradual destruction of a society, an institution or a system.

A paper presented by the Uganda Library Association in 2000 says school libraries continued to limp through most of the 1990s, a legacy of the tumultuous 1970s. The paper blamed this situation the fact that government doesn’t have a clear cut policy on the development of school libraries in Uganda.

Following the introduction of universal primary education, Government worked reducing the textbook to student ratio without necessarily following this up with a concrete school library development policy. All secondary school head-teachers of government schools are under instruction to recruit persons to run school libraries at certificate level.

The Uganda Library Association has taken up issue with this policy and claims to be addressing the concerned ministries over the matter.

The Uganda Library Association - a Lame Duck. A Lame, Lame Duck.

However all is not lost for school libraries because there is a general trend especially in private schools to establish modern libraries to support learning.

Under the Access to Information Act passed by Parliament in 2006, Government requires that all its agencies provide central points from which the public can access information. Resource Centers, it calls them.

These ministerial libraries are intended to serve primarily the needs of the legislature and developmental functions of the government.

Bravo Government of Uganda? Absolutely not.

The libraries mostly collect official gazettes, parliamentary debates, census reports, gazettes, annual reports, committee papers, acts, serials, monographs and other materials in the areas of their specialization. Many of them are outdated, torn and not accessible to the public. Technocrats blame financial constraints for the failed objectives of the resource centers.

A survey of all Government libraries conducted in 2004 by Sarah Kagoda Batuwa, a leading Ugandan librarian, revealed a stock of less than 10,000 volumes. Most of the books were old and the majority were donations. Subscriptions to periodicals ceased long ago, with only two libraries still subscribing to about 10 journal titles.

National Library of Uganda – the biggest literary lame duck of them all.

I think every single ‘educated’ Ugandan is to blame for this state of affairs. No one is pushing the agenda for improved libraries and reading facilities in Uganda.

Parliamentarians are too concerned with increasing their salaries and getting fat car loans for themselves to consider libraries an issue of concern. This is no surprise considering that data from the parliamentary library indicates that only 12 percent of MPs use the facility. A majority of the 21 percent only use it to catch up on their email correspondences and to surf the net for … well.

To assume that the teachers’ association will do anything to press for better library services is also a far reach. Most are too consumed with their own problems to attempt to improve their education or even their basic understanding of the world around them.

The only time you hear anything is during the annual National Book week organized by the National Library of Uganda and you can be sure that like a stuck record, the theme will be ‘improving the reading culture, improving the reading culture.’

More action, less talk. More knowledge, less literacy I say.

Frustration - feeling annoyed and impatient because of the absence of the ideal.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 05, 2006 at 3:09 PM and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

2 comments

The link to Dr. Cook's picture gallery is dead.

5:29 PM

Oh what a shame, Tumwijuke (am I a bad white Ugandan? I struggle to say your name!). When I was a child I used to go to the national library all the time, it was a wonderful place. I was in heaven there. When I frist returned to Kampala in 2006 I brought some books which I donated to the Mayor's library. This was because Nasser Sebagala is an old family friend and I asked him about making my donation. I pasted a plaque inside the books in my fathers's memory. They were Buddhist books. Because I only donated a small number of books the press were not called. I saw that the library was in a terrible mess, however it was really well used and the manager, I can't remember his name, was so enthusiastic. They were trying so hard with such a lack of resources.

12:24 PM

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