I was chatting to a shop assistant at one bookshop in Zanzibar two months ago. Like Casey bookshop in Arusha, this is the best in town yet on the shelf were mostly school text materials and very, very few Swahili authors. Yes, I saw one or two copies of Professor Said Ahmed Mohammed, the late Mohammed Said Abdullah and Adam Shafi
Famous author and promoter of Swahili literature and language Adam Shafi when he visited the UK in 2007. Pic by F Macha
Had I been a foreign tourist searching for Tanzanian literature I would have been disappointed. No Ismael Mbise's “Blood on our land”(1974), autobiography of former cabinet minister Edwin Mtei (From Goatherd to Governor, Mkuki 2009) or historian Mohammed Said's The life and times of Abdulwahid Sykes (Minerva, 1998).
It is like visiting a country that has just experienced war; no writers, no stories to tell. The shop assistant quipped: “Our people do not read anymore. Now imagine this. If I am one of those citizens who do not read, what will happen if I become a political leader? Will I suddenly promote reading and buying books?”
Beginning of December, various book promoters and Vice President Dr. Mohammed Gharib Bilal were quoted lamenting on the vanishing reading culture in Tanzania. Whereas in the 1970’s we had the highest literacy rate at 96 percent, today figures have fallen to 72 percent, so said James Ndege, vice chairman of Tanzania Libraries Association. This poverty of mind is creating so much ignorance that it has affected employment opportunities and fuelled ignorance and superstition by example the Albinos genocide.
Ignorance is one thing, opportunity another.
As we bemoan the lack of readership, there is a much more sinister change occurring across the world. Due to the rise of E books and the Amazon Kindle phenomenon we are witnessing the end of book publishing since it began around 1,500 years ago.
According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) study released March this year sales of E books reached 12.8 million and 48 percent of these ( almost half) were Kindle models. What is IDC and what is Kindle?
IDC is a US based research organisation that does market intelligence, advisory services, information technology and employs around 1,000 analysts. Their work is high value. Kindle was developed in 2007 by Amazon the online shop and is capable of storing multiple numbers of books.
Like mobile phones, each year better Kindle models are being developed. In its first phase the gadget had 250 megabytes and a capacity to store 200 non illustrated titles; by February 2009 Kindle had 250 megabytes (1,500 titles) and to help its promotion released celebrated author Stephen King’s short novel (novella) called UR, a story about someone who receives an email from the dead.
Recently ever expanding Kindle gave us Kindle touch with a two month battery duration, 4 Gigabytes and costing much cheaper than when it started in 2007. Last year the USA announced E book sales have surpassed paper-books sales.
To match with the times, an Internet Archive was founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle to transform all books, websites, music, moving pictures into E Books. San Fransisco based Khale told the BBC recently that the free of charge project which is recognised as part of American Library Association service receives 10 million books monthly, from all over the world. In other words book- publishing technology is turning digital.
Lately, I have personally bought and read three major E books on health, relationships and philosophy online. In the past I would have ordered the same titles directly from the publisher which would have been expensive and painstakingly long.
We shall soon see the demise of books just like we experienced the death of Vinyl and the switch from LP’s and cassettes to CD’s and the conversion of cinema into VCR tapes and DVD’s; or traditional telephones to hand held mobile and cell phones.
But it is the book revolution that is slightly shocking and filled with complex implications.
First in line is our forests and environment. Although the paper industry is likely to suffer most, our earth which relies on trees for oxygen shall benefit. According to a 2006 UN report forests store 312 billion tons of carbon-dioxide. The destruction of forests (to produce paper) adds 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
The second implication is poor countries. The Secretary General of Tanzania Book Writers Association (UWAVITA), Mr Cuthbert Zuberi has called on the government to invest in publishing and promotion of reading habits.
The reading habit has been replaced by excessive TV watching, FM radio stations and an ill-regulated internet, Mkuki na Nyota Publisher, Mr. Walter Bgoya, was quoted saying by Citizen earlier this month.
If our people are not reading how will they match and catch up with this fast moving transformation of knowledge and information?
Published in Citizen Tanzania, Friday 23rd December,2011: