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Tanzania government must be at forefront of promoting reading culture

Friday November 27 2020
fredy machaa

Fredy Macha is a writer and musician based in London.Blog,www.fredymachablogspot.

By Freddy Macha

You know things are seriously wrong, when a senior member of a major government arts organisation argues that literature is not art. This type of thinking is what sends us backwards as it only considers music, dance and Makonde carving to be art. Why do you think the heavyweight figure said that? Reading books and literature involves THINKING. How are we going to develop as a nation if our people don’t learn to think?”

So asked Fidelis Tungaraza during a lengthy phone chat. He was expressing a major frustration. Reading books is not taken seriously by our government institutions.

The phone call was reviewing a recent discussion on WhatsApp. A remarkable dialogue that ended with eminent seasoned publishing icon, Walter Bgoya (Mkuki na Nyota) declaring “Book Reading to be the Industry of Gentility”. Tasnia ya Uungwana.

Last week’s talk was The BEST I have ever seen on any social media forum.

Steered by Jukwaa la Sanaa (arts forum), the discourse involved old and young, based in Tanzania and overseas. Formed in August 2020, Jukwaa la Sanaa has over 100 participants and it wants results. No wonder group members made efforts to invite prominent technocrats to contribute to the crisis of Reading Books. A crisis said to be affecting the literacy and language skills of our entire post-1990 Millennial generation.

WhatsApp is indeed influential and popular.

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According to stats,the app is the highest online means of communication. Four years after being launched by two ex-Yahoo employees, Brian Acton and Jan Koum, it had 200 million customers in 2013.

By 2014 Facebook bought the creation for $19 billion. As we speak, 29 million messages are sent per minute.

Cost-free, WhatsApp is used to unite friends, like minded individuals, families and businesses. Last week it was claimed that British PM Boris Johnson was running his cabinet through WhatsApp. WhatsApp can be negative, trite, disruptive or....

Else?

Cook, boil and prepare progressive ideas.

Exactly what Jukwaa la Sanaa has done.

For decades, art has been disregarded in Tanzania. No wonder literature is cast away as nothing.

No wonder a young contributor on the forum whined: “ I don’t know how to read because I don’t know which books to start or where to find them...”

That speaks a lot about this chapter of the 21st century.

A contributor called Abdullah Saiwaad explained that back in the last century, he found his first books at school as they were free.

Schools and family are the primary catalyst for the National Love of Books.

Subsequently, the first real source are libraries.

Everywhere you go in developed nations, libraries are abundant. Here in London, libraries open from 9 in the morning to 8pm. Daily. During weekends they close at 5pm.

One of the most respected promoters of Swahili literature in Tanzania, Prof M. Mulokozi commented: “Many primary and secondary schools do not have libraries. The National Library Service has not been improved since the 1970s.”

Prof Mulokozi reminds what the late Prof Chachage S. Chachage, lecturer of Sociology, at the University of Dar es Salaam said many years ago that local entrepreneurs and investors are keen to promote and build PUBS but NOT LIBRARIES.

One major aspect, seconded by publisher and initiator of Soma Cafe in Dar es Salaam, Demere Kitunga (E & D Limited), is writing contests for young. However, Ms Kitunga asked who would pay for public and school libraries? Book reading festivals and other resourceful avenues for reading books help drive reading. So are we a nation of bars and drunkards? Or are we Hapa Kazi Tu?

An article by veteran journalist Jenerali Ulimwengu in Rai of September 2018, was introduced to the chat. Its Swahili headline screamed WITHOUT BOOKS WE ARE DEAD, WE ARE JUST BUILDING CEMETERIES.


Seriously?

Ulimwengu further wrote that reading for him is like chatting with a friend or lover and that “he does not know any nation that developed without having a culture of reading books. Which country is that?” He challenged.

So to go back to Fidelis Tungaraza’s astonishment.

What do we expect if a member of a major national arts organisation, created by the government, disregards literature? Where are we heading?

Mwafrika Merinyo, self-published author who also runs Afrika Sana art centre in Dar es Salaam, insisted that what was discussed needs to be HEARD BY THE GOVERNMENT.

Apart from our government initiating campaigns and sponsoring an interest in books WE NEED THE MEDIA TO WAKE UP. Our media should have pages for book reviews and TV and Radio broadcasting programmes showcasing the reading of books.

No wonder current journalists and bloggers mess up the language and mix up syllables.

There are efforts here and there (Soma Cafe, Ngoma Afrika Morogoro and others). However , we rely on our members of Parliament helped by the Press to fire us into line with other nations.

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Freddy Macha is a writer and musician based in London Blog: [email protected]/