I have always been impervious to the claim that ‘Kenyans do not read.’ My question has always been whether we do not read the usual suspects (that is Chinua Achebe, Margaret Ogolla, Grace Ogot, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chimamanda and the likes) or we simply do not read at all.
This claim has for the longest time sounded somewhat hyperbolic to my ears, but after months and months of having to put up with it, it actually dawned on me that there is some truth in this statement.
Just at the start of the week, last Sunday, I had the undeserved privilege to be in a sitting with one Mr. Martin, who has been a teacher of English, editor and a writer for a good number of years. It was a personal mentorship program of which I was seeking to develop a greater sense of purpose for my writing. He pointed out that some articles he had recently read from various Kenyan writers, can undisputedly be termed as gibberish, fundamentally because the writers were ‘literary malnourished.’ They write without purpose and on trivial issues that do not spark the greater public’s interest and annoyingly get published in the newspapers. Anyhow, when a man bites a dog that is news, right?
Later that day, I was in another sitting at Mbagathi study center’s red room, with Centum Capital’s Managing Director, Mr. Fred Murimi. He echoed out the words that Kenyans do not read and reinforced this claim with a philosophy that seems to revolve around the Kenyan financial world, that if you want to hide information from a Kenyan just put it in a book, he will never read it.
As these words kept playing at the back of my mind, I recollected the event of the previous afternoon where a good friend of mine was going through my backpack and found a copy of Chimamanda’s purple hibiscus, and had the audacity to jocularly ask me in unapologetically ashaming Kiswahili, “Wewe bado unasomanga vitabu?”