I read an interesting article today on the BBC about one writer from Zimbabwe, now in exile in Norway, on the subject of books, literature and literacy in Zimbabwe. According the article, both access to and interest in literature has been in decline in the African nation over the past several years. Explanations range from affordability, education policy, tax infrastructure and censorship. I've taken excerpts from the article but recommend that you read the article in it's entirety on the BBC site.
From the BBC:
Exiled Zimbabwean writer Chenjerai Hove explains why he thinks Africa's reading habits are in decline. A critic of the Mugabe government, he currently lives in Norway, and his published work includes poetry, novels, essays and reflections. It was in the early 1990s and the public, thirsting for new books, had flooded the National Gallery Gardens to meet the writers and see the books. Not so today.
Books are subject to the same sales and duty taxes as other commodities. Materials for producing books, like inks, newsprint, printing plates, and the essential technology, are all taxed on the same rate as bolts and spare parts for cars.
The absurdity of taxes on books is in that governments in Africa are the biggest buyers of school textbooks. The Ministries of Education give money to schools or the responsible authorities as an annual book allocation. The Ministry of Finance then taxes the books bought by the Ministry of Education in order to give schools grants for the following year.
Sadly, most education systems in Africa are also examination-oriented. Students are never taught to read books as a pleasurable experience in itself without thinking of exams. Universities and colleges are producing what I call the "new illiterates". They have their degrees and diplomas, but hardly take time to sit and enjoy reading good books.
Bridges not books
Effective book development policies mean affordable books will be available on a continuous basis in order to make reading a habit in the heart and soul of every reader in every country. It is sad when I realise that African books are read more outside the continent than inside. African governments only view development in terms of bridges, school buildings, clinics, hospitals and roads. The African mind is the least of their priorities.
If the lives of the people of Zimbabwe is to improve, a part of the solution is improving the education. Unrestricted access to books and information is a necessary component of a real education - an education where people have the intellectual tools to solve problems specific to their own situation and time. As the Hove mentions, rote memorization-based education reinforcing an examination culture does little to improve and equip the student for real-world problems. A student needs to be worldly in order to deal with global problems. The student must also possess an appreciation for their culture's literature in order understand the subtlities of their heritage. A nation of students cramming for TOEFL exams is not beneficial to any nation in the long run. Bookstores need a topic diverse inventory of affordable books. Public libraries need to accessible and open. A nation without an appreciation for the humanities is a nation without humanity.
BBC. African writer wants books, not bridges
*Also relating to Zimbabwe is the next day's posting "Creative Defiance" and the work of another Zimbabwe exile, (and teacher) Chaz Maviyane-Davies. I will be writing some words about my interest in Congo in the next days.
Posted by on October 30, 2005 4:40 PM | Permalink