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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Are Africans reading less?
Young boy reading in a library

Is Africa's culture of reading in decline?

Access to books in Africa is often difficult and expensive and only a few countries, like Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria, have a significant book trade.

Often the government is the biggest purchaser of books, particularly textbooks for schools. But children do not always respond well to textbooks and they may not be good at reading them.

Everyone wants to read a good story. With the lack of good reading material, standards of literacy are going down.

Do you read for pleasure? Are you too busy to read? What kinds of books do you like or need to read? Does Africa lack a reading culture?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

I read politics, and war stories, because is what I experienced during my childhood
Delice, Rwandan in USA
I never read a book until I went in high school. School books were only carried by teachers. They wrote notes on the blackboard, and we were busy writing them in our notebook. Then on your way home, before it gets dark, if you are smart enough, you open your note book and read what you wrote earlier. Because when you get home, they are several chores waiting for you. I walked from school 10 miles a day, I got home and had to look after goats and chickens. When it got dark, there was no electricity in the village.

There are millions of kids who have grownup like me. Today, I read politics, and war stories, because is what I experienced during my childhood. Parents and governments have a huge impact on African children's tomorrow. But I also wonder, how Africans children become so smart when lack of reading is a huge wall which separates us from everything!
Delice, Rwandan in USA

The culture of keeping records of writing is not very old in Africa. If this is true then the culture of reading has not grown enough roots and therefore needs to be nurtured carefully. I do not think the culture of reading is declining but it might not be growing fast enough. The slow economic growth could be partly responsible for this.
Ebenezer Moshi, Arusha, Tanzania

Yes. Africans are presently reading less. I suppose it is all due to the lack of stake holders and the few well meaning Africans. to help us as students to properly focus on reading and making education a priority. Which in turn l diverts the minds of up coming adults from that of education to that of war, and its related activities. These and many other reasons have contributed to lower level of reading and studies among African students.
Julius B Kawa, Monrovia, Liberia

The reading habits of African populations have been going down a lot recently. I think the problem is the lack of coherent book development policies. There is no special sales or tax on books in most African countries. In addition, there is also no special postal rates for books ordered from national libraries. Printing paper, inks and printing plates are taxed at the same level as other commodities. All these impediments make books extremely expensive and belong the reach of the ordinary person.
Chenjerai Hove, Stavanger, Norway (Zimbabwean writer in exile)

People seem to prefer learning from elders, rejecting self enquiry, and research
Papi Mbikay, Congolese in the UK
I think the hatred some of my fellow Africans have for books is cultural. In Africa people seem to believe that knowledge comes with age, which I totally reject. People seem to prefer learning from elders, rejecting self enquiry, and research. Critical argument is even seen as disrespectful in a culture that maintains that age means wisdom. Clearly the state of Africa defies this view.

I see no other means of liberating millions of African farmers, political activists, HIV infected people, shop keepers, university graduates and labourers than through reading. I entirely disagree with Kapinga Ntumba in Harare, who argues that an empty stomach has no ears. This is ridiculous. Is it not possible to secure means of obtaining food through reading? Throughout the ages reading has been the best candle of life improvement.
Papi Mbikay, Congolese in the UK

I like to read but I can't get the books that I like to read in my country. Even if they are there, they're too expensive.
Mariama Sacko, Conakry Guinea

Do people read at all in Nigeria? Yes! The women generally devour all the junk magazines that are replete with scandal and gossip, while the men devour newspapers to get the latest political drama. Several individuals are working hard to revive the reading culture in Nigeria by establishing book clubs for adults and kids, and I am privileged to belong to one. Generally, I read newspapers, magazines, self-improvement books and as a creative writer, I have a collection of fictional works that inspire me to write better.
Felix Abrahams Obi, Abuja, Nigeria

Reading is a habit which is developed at a very early age. If a child is in an environment where adults are always reading something, the child develops that habit. We need to have material that will entice the young to read more. It is from those romantic books that some of us have moved on to reading other things of importance.
Aisher Sebi, a Ugandan in , Australia

Africa used to have a good reading culture until the advent of home video which has taken over reading. The high cost of books has also contributed to the pathetic situation. Local publishers rub salt into the wounds by having interest in only primary and secondary school textbooks that they know will sell and so do not encourage the authors of other books.
Babatunde Olaosebikan, Nigeria

Reading for leisure is very rare in Africa
Halima, Somaliland
Reading to me is to get informed and educated. I only read historical magazines, newspapers or books on History, unlike some of my friends who read novels for entertainment and passing time. Reading for leisure is very rare in Africa.
Halima, Hargeisa, Somaliland

As a social science graduate, I enjoy reading very much, especially politics, military, war, and a little romance. It is however worrying about the lack of reading culture in my country (Nigeria) for obvious reasons. Lack of interesting books, illiteracy and great poverty, which makes people devote time to finding ways of sustenance, hence little or no time for reading.
Mathias Alagbo, Brighton, UK

Yes Americans, Europeans and Asians do a lot of reading, that's why it is said that they are equipped with information which prevents them from being ignorant. But in Africa, even though reading is declining, for the fact that access to major books are costly, there are still a few who read broadly and have time to discuss what they have read. And those reading less also have time to listen to them, so no room for ignorance as you may think.
Adama, The Gambia

Yes, reading is one of my many habits and I find pleasure in doing it. As a journalist, I like reading great journalistic accounts and politics. But yes, Africa lacks the reading culture especially amongst the youth thus giving way to ignorance.
Joe Noutoua Wandah, Liberian in Accra

I love reading. I devour any material that I can find
Annis Gathoni, Tanzania

I am a Kenyan lecturer in Tanzania, and I am appalled by the lack of reading culture here. While I admit that access to books is limited, the lack of a reading culture is present even in areas where books are available. I love reading. I devour any material that I can find, and I am frustrated that a day has only 24 hours, and that I am human because my body and mind does need rest at times! Once a student asked me why I was always reading. I had no words for her.
Annis Gathoni, Iringa, Tanzania

I don't think we lack a reading culture. With few computers available, all we need to do is read and read and read
Steven Phiri, Zambia

We do a lot of reading in Nigeria. In my family alone, there is an emphasis on education. We read both for academic reasons and for pleasure. There is nothing as good as enriching ones knowledge as knowledge is power.
Omorodion Osula, USA

Slowly the book is being replaced by other means
Rufaro, South Africa
Are Asians reading more? How about Europeans, Americans? What is the purpose of reading anyway? People are too busy to read aimlessly. One must read for a purpose. I am an African and I read everyday of my life and these days its not only books one reads from you can get refined information on pamphlets, news papers, internet, etc. Slowly the book is being replaced by other means.
Rufaro, South Africa

I only read when it is something that has to do with school marks but now that I am not at school, I rarely read and only do it when I am on the internet. I have to spend my time in search of daily bread that is hard to get in most African countries. Don't we say an empty stomach has no ears? Is it really possible to concentrate on reading when my stomach is still requesting for something to fill it? In Africa we have first to overcome the problem of hunger before we can concentrate on other things. This has nothing to do with culture but we do prioritize, and food comes first.
Kapinga Ntumba, Harare, Zimbabwe

When I was still at school I always dreamt of having good books on every subject to read. However, that did not come true. Then after graduating from university when I had enough time, I used to read books for pleasure. But lack of enough material meant that I started to spend my time on other things. I read less often these days.
Joe, Ethiopian in Norway

A significant segment of the population in Africa have no access to reading materials in a language that they understand well and accept as the medium of communication. For most people, reading has no link with comprehension but rather pronouncing what is on the page. Reading would be very effective if people had access to reading materials in the vernacular language and/or one or more second languages, provided they understand them.
Prossy Nannyombi, Entebbe, Uganda

If reading is a habit, then every rational being can develop it
Alfred Kenya, Sudan/Australia
Reading and culture are two different words and it is not right to incorporate the two. Instead of a reading culture, let us talk about reading habits. I don't think African read less and this can be proved by the fact that we have many libraries in Africa. If reading is a habit, then every rational being can develop it and Africans are not alien to rationality.
Alfred Kenyi, Sudan/Australia

I think we don't have good teachers to help the children understand the importance of reading and we actually don't have enough books for our kids to read and the libraries are poor.
Lawrence Munthali, Malawi/Kansas, USA

The culture of reading is very low among students in The Gambia. Most students read only for exams. This lack of reading culture has affected students' performance in examinations. Sometimes one may not blame students, as most teachers hardly read too. There should be something put in place (like a national reading competition) where students and teachers would be examined on the number of books they've read at the end of each term. This, I believe, will go a long way in not only broadening the readers knowledge (both students and teachers) but also improving performance in examinations and at work.
Besenty Gomez, Kitty Village, Gambia

Part of the problem is that young Africans and young persons of African descent in America and the Caribbean spend more money on CDs than on books. Reading is just not part of black culture. Moreover, since children learn by example, they do not see their parents reading a good book. Hence, the cycle continues. That is our tragedy.
Ernest Merrill, St Johns, Antigua & Barbuda

Reading has nothing to do with understanding. Reading is one thing and understanding is another. Africans are reading, but they are neither understanding nor implementing what they claim to understand.
Emmanuel Ahadjie, Ghana

There is a complete lack of reading culture in some areas
Josephat Mua, USA
Let's face it, when we were growing up in Africa, there was a complete lack of books in the villages and schools we attended. The stock was out of date and it was often difficult to purchase books. Printed materials are part of the mass media. Access to and control of these media are sources of power. In a reading society, books demand public involvement and concern. With high levels of unemployment and lack of resources across Africa, people are too busy planning how to survive. In addition, there is a complete lack of reading culture in some areas.
Josephat M Mua, Silver Spring, USA

The books that are found here in Africa, which could be of great help, are very costly.
King Anderson Emmy Snr, Ivory Coast

Reading habits are increasing in families and on individual levels, but declining in society in general.
Francis, Ghana/Norway

How many Africans have libraries in their houses?
Arnaud, Rwanda/Cameroon
I do not think Africa's culture of reading is declining. The main reason for reading less here in Africa is poverty. How many Africans have libraries in their houses? I will confess here that through BBC's programmes, many young Africans are likely to fall in love with writing and reading.
Arnaud Emmanuel Ntirenganya, Rwanda/Cameroon

If you want to hide any thing from an African, just put it in a book. We lack a reading culture. The big men's sons and daughters who read only get themselves entangled in romantic books. We have magazines that talk of current affairs and new things being invented by scientists. But I would say modernization is also compounding this problem. Instead of reading, the youth want to be jamming out there. Our parents and grand parents had good reading habits.
Kwaku Sakyi-Danso, Accra, Ghana


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