Issues News

Why pupils in public schools are performing better

When schools were opening, there were complaints all over, especially on social media, by folks, with kids in academies, expressing frustrations at how queues in bookstores were unmanageable. It was hectic.

However, let me give you the other side of the coin: public schools.

Parents with kids in public schools only needed to present their children in school and go back home. There, kids are supplied with all, repeat, all textbooks – the ones that you sweated all day in queues, to buy – for free!

Another thing, there is no sharing of books by pupils in public schools. If a pupil takes seven subjects, they get seven books, each per subject. You see, when Dr Fred Matiang’i was Education Cabinet Secretary, he fought hard to ensure that public schools attained the desired ratio of one textbook per pupil.

A few years back, free education money would be sent to school accounts for teachers to purchase the books from booksellers. While this money (they call it capitation) was barely enough, there was widespread corruption and pupils regularly went without textbooks.

Crooked head teachers would collude with equally crooked booksellers to pocket free education cash and provide air to schools. Meanwhile publishers would wait for booksellers to make orders to no avail.

Their warehouses would be filled with books that were not moving, simply because booksellers were not making orders and the losses kept mounting!

All this time records in schools indicated that book purchases had been made, only that head teachers, had pocketed the money – after splitting it halfway with booksellers – to replenish their side hustles, finance their side dishes or build shiny new houses in the villages.

Then enter Matiang’i? With a single blow he busted the cartels, by knocking booksellers off the supply chain and ordering publishers to deliver books directly to schools.

And you wondered how pupils from public primary schools nowadays are able to beat their counterparts in private schools, in KCPE? Simple, they now have books…

Next: how Matiang’i made this possible…

Events Issues News Personalities

Kenyan elected to continental publishing body

A Kenyan, Mr. Lawrence Njagi is the new treasurer of African Publishers Network (APNET), the continental body that brings together African publishers from both English and French speaking countries. Mr. Njagi, who apart from being the chairman of the Kenya Publishers Association, is also the managing director of Mountain Top Publishers, was elected for a two year period when APNET’s general council met in Cape Town on the sidelines of the Cape Town Book Fair. Mr. Samuel Kolowale, who heads the Nigeria Publishers Network, was elected as chairman.

The new team also includes Mohamed Radi, from Egypt as vice chair. Members of the council are Mrs Christine Ekue from Togo, Mrs Gaulphine Nyirenda from Malawi, Mr Asare Yemoah Konadu from Ghana and Mr David Kibuuka from Uganda. The new team will be in office for a period of two years. The new team takes over from the previous office held by Brian Wafarowa, from South Africa, who was chairman and Ray Munamwimbu, from Zambia, who was treasurer.


KPA’s end of year party

Friday December 7 was a very special day for me and this blog. This is the day that Pulse, the increasingly popular youth/entertaining magazine that comes out every Friday in the Standard, reproduced a review I had ran on Tony Mochama’s poetry book What If I am a Literary Gangster. The piece was treated as Special Edition in the Scene at column.
This was also the day that Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), through Lillian Inziani, invited me to their end of year luncheon held at the posh Nairobi Club. I checked in some minutes past one sufficiently hungry for the spread the ever resourceful Lillian had in store for us.
The first person I saw at the venue was OUP’s PR chief Esther Kantai, in the company of their marketing director John Kiarie and Kiswahili editor Hassan Said, who was appropriately dressed in a Kanzu, being a Friday.
The place was still in the process of being laid out but KPA chair Mrs Nancy Karimi, looking regal, (JKF MD) was already there, so was Eve Obara of KLB, a KPA council member. This was going to be an open-air function, as opposed to the closed-door affairs of previous years. Lillian, the KPA executive officer could be seen running around, obviously making sure that everything was in order.
I took a seat at the far left corner, directly facing the buffet table, where else! Soon, and in quick succession, I was joined by Treza Kinoru, EAEP’s PR girl, Brenda Anjuri, OUP’s production manager and Mary Mbuthia Macmillan’s Marketing manager. Clearly, I was not doing badly, what with all those beauties surrounding me. There was also Henry Munene, an editor at EAEP. Munene in Kikuyu means big, and clearly he is not exactly small! Gabriel Maina, the cool Savanis’ Marketing manager completed the picture.
Much later we were joined by Musyoki Muli, the Sasa Sema boss at Longhorn. Muli also turned out to be the event’s emcee, and he really did a good job of it. Next table sat Kiarie Kamau (KK) the quiet but highly effective editorial manager at EAEP, looking sharp like a pin. (he introduced himself only as editor. Kwanini unacheza na madaraka KK?) Louisa Kadzo, an editor at EAEP and the indefatigable one-man publishing machine Malkiat Sighn himself.
Behind me sat two other very tough publishing gurus, Simon Sossion of Longhorn and Muthui Kiboi of Focus. I gather they were in KU together. They must have been reliving some nostalgic college days.
Lawrence Njagi, the MD of Mountain Top later stepped in majestically in the company of his lovely wife and planted themselves at the high table. June Wanjiru, the marketing manager at Kwani? Completed the picture at the high table, which also had Jimna Mbaru, the NSE boss, who was the chief guest.
On the other side I could see beautiful Beatrice Nugi of Longhorn, as well as Peter Nyoro of Longman. Murori Kiunga of Queenex Holdings was also in the house. The trio of Paul Karaimu, Anne Mutua and Catherine Muraguri, had ably represented WordAlive Publishers, I wonder where their boss David Waweru was.
Once everyone was settled Mrs Karimi gave her speech, which highlighted the achievements KPA had chalked up in the year, which included the holding of a successful tenth Nairobi International Book Fair, and challenged publishers to aim for bigger things in the coming year.
It was now the time for Jimnah Mbaru to give his keynote address, which went on well, save from the little hitch of his Powerpoint presentation which most of us could not see because of too much light. He explained to those gathered what the NSE is all about and the various ways people can make money there.
Touching on the sensitive issue of Kenya’s sorry reading culture, Mbaru explained this could be due to the unfortunate culture among Kenyans who claim to have “finished” school after attaining a certain level of education, thereby putting an end to reading. Giving his own example, where he enrolled for a Law degree at the University of Nairobi, when he was in his fifties, he stressed that reading is a life-long commitment.
He challenged publishers to get out of the cocoon of text book publishing and embrace general publishing. He gave the example of the West where publishers encourage well known public figures to write books, as they are guaranteed sales.
Was it an oversight that he forgot to mention that he has a book out published by EAEP? Well…
Finally Mbaru asked publishers to have themselves listed in the NSE, as they would raise their profiles that way. A publisher’s IPO anyone?
Too bad Mbaru had to leave before he could partake of what Lillian had on the buffet table for us. A busy man, he had to rush to another function – Things that billionaires do that we don’t. Hmm I guess I will be skipping lunches more often in order to emulate Mbaru… just kidding.
Anyway, the best part of the day was soon here with us and Muli invited members of the high table to sample that buffet delights before everyone. Apparently, Muli who kept using sayings and proverbs in his presentation, has never heard of this one: Charity begins at home! He should have started with our table, where he was also seated! He he
Anyway I digress. After putting away a plate full – I stress the word full – it was time for introductions, and I realised that people in the publishing industry do not know each other! Which is a shame really. Lillian should work at bringing the publishing fraternity together more often, possibly in the evenings, where people can mingle over a drink. It is only natural. As the function came to a close Kakai Karani, the MD of Longman cornered me and accused me of being biased against his company! He only let me go after extracting a promise from me that I would write a comprehensive review of their book Poems Aplently. In my other life I work as newspaper book reviewer. Now you understand why I was invited to a publishers’ bash.
As we were leaving, Njagi and his wife were kind enough to give me a ride in their cream Mercedes. But do I say?
UPDATE: I am reliably informed that KPA’s website was supposed to be launched during the lancheon. We never got to hear a word of it. Lillian what happened?


Book Fair: lessons learnt

With this year’s Book Fair over and done with, there are a few things that organisers and the book industry in general need to take into consideration. Granted that the Fair, which was in its tenth year, was relatively successful, there are lingering feelings that it would have been much better.
Anyone visiting this year’s edition of the Book fair at the Sarit Centre, in Westlands, must have noted the increase in the number of stands, which is a good thing for the industry. It shows that the book industry is expanding. However, with this expansion comes the issue of space. Any casual observer at the Fair must have noticed that the stands were actually cramped.
This came out clearly particularly on the days there was increased traffic. With so much traffic, moving around the exhibition hall became quite labourious, and this is not a good thing for the various exhibitors, some of whom felt that visitors did not spend quality time at their stands. Thus, they ended up not reaping the maximum benefits of the increased traffic.
Secondly, as a result of the increase in the number of exhibitors this year, there were some stands that were relegated to the hall at the back. These ones must have felt shortchanged as not every visitor to the place was aware that they were there in the first place. I for one had not noted that there were additional stands at the back until someone dragged me back there.
This situation is now asking serious questions as to whether the Sarit Centre Expo Centre is too small for the book exhibitors. Is it time for publishers to shop for a different venue? This is a question only publishers can answer.
There also have been concerns to the effect that the Fair would do well if it was to held in a more central place, where most people can access easily. The answer to such a venue naturally falls on KICC. But will publishers, known for their aversion to part with money, afford the fees, a revamped and professionalised KICC demands?
Still, publishers have to grapple with the concern that the Nairobi International Book Fair is not properly marketed. Kenyans are yet to see the kind of publicity blitz that usually accompanies fairs like the Motor Show, Homes Expo, among others, being lavished on the Book Fair. Apart from diehard book lovers, a majority of Nairobians would most likely tell you that they have never heard of the Book Fair.
Perhaps due to the fact that most of their money comes from text book publishing, the most part of marketing for the Fair is concentrated in schools. Publishers, as a matter of priority, need to move out of their over reliance on text book publishing and start paying more attetion to general publishing. That way they will be able to attract more of the general public to the Fair.
It is also worthy noting that publishers do not engage in aggressive marketing of their products (read books). It is no wonder that they keep whining about the poor reading habits of Kenyans, when they are not creating enough hype on their books. The Kalenjin People’s Egypt Origin Legend Revisited: Was Isis Asiis?, a historical book published by Longhorn Kenya, is a case in point.
Having read the book, Philip Ochieng wondered why nothing was being done to publicise the book. In his Sunday Nation column published on August 5 2007, he posed the following question “Why was a book of such significance to Africa published quetly in an African city and sneaked into its bookshops without a single word of publicity?”
The marketing aspect begs another question. Should the promotion and marketing of the Nairobi International Book Fair be placed in the hands of professional marketers in future? Over to you publishers.
The other aspect that begs attention regarding the Book Fair has to do with international publishers. For a Fair that boast of its international status, one would expect to find a fair number of international exhibitors. Sadly this is not the case with the NIBF. One of the core roles of book fairs is the rights trading, and that is where international publishers come in. That, in our case, means that very few of our publishers get to sell or buy international rights.
And this does not mean that there no books being published here that would interest audiences in other parts of the world. On the contrary there are many books published locally that would be of immense interest out there, but the publishers are not doing much to have them known. Who else can they blame other than themselves?
The same thing applies to award winning books. The very fact that a certain book has won an award – any award – is enough reason for it to be promoted as widely as possible. But sadly our award winning books rarely get the attention they deserve on the international front.
Perhaps the only Kenyan book that received worldwide attention courtesy of winning an award is Margaret Ogola’s book The River and the Source, (Focus Publishers) which bagged the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 1995. Today there are several international editions of the book doing rounds globally, including translations. However, that credit goes to the Commonwealth Writers Prize, which the book won the same year. It is organisers of the Commonwealth Prize who are the reason the book enjoys such international stature.
Speaking of prizes, lack of enough marketing also afflicts The Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, which is the premier books award in the country. Were the organisers of the award – The Kenya Publishers Association – to market it more aggresivelly then the winners would not be the obscure lot they are today.
Again the prize money awarded to the winners, KSh40,000 (US$597), is not motivating enough. More importantly, the controversies characterised in the judging of the books is one the award can do well without.
The second Wahome Mutahi Prize for Literature will be held at the end of next year’s book fair, and I am afraid the same depressing award money, if not less, will be dished out to the winners. Isn’t the memory of Wahome Mutahi aka Whispers worthy much more than that?