A Kenyan Writers Path, a new project from retailer Naivas, launched at the Ciata Mall, Ridgeways, Nairobi on World Literacy Day, Wednesday, September 8, 2021.
Naivas Supermarket, one of the biggest retailers in Kenya, made a callout for books from writers and publishers in June. With the new concept “A Kenyan Writers Path” they asked writers to submit their books to be considered to be placed on the shelves of their 75 supermarkets across the country and the website. The company engaged Writers Guild Kenya to vet the books submitted and from these, over 300 books were selected to join in the pilot program.
On September 8, World Literacy Day, the initiative was presented to the public with an event at the Naivas branch at the Ciata Mall, Ridgeways. The event emceed by Brian George Otieno featured several personalities in the Kenyan literary community including Prof Kithaka Wa Mberia, Muthoni Garland, Gabriel Ndinda, and Salome Kanyi. Also giving addresses were Kiambu County’s Mary Njoroge, Will Kimani the Chief Commercial Officer at Naivas Kenya, and Keynote speaker The Standard Group CEO Orlando Lyomu.
Salome Kanyi has written books as well as designed a board game in Kikuyu, one of the most widely spoken languages in the country. She spoke about the challenge she had when she was looking for books in her mother tongue Kikuyu for her kids whom she homeschools. She decided to start working on her own books for kids in Kikuyu as well as publishing in other mother tongues.
Muthoni Garland in her remarks, thanked Naivas for availing their branch network for publishers in the country. She gave a moving story of how they started as Storymoja by publishing Sunny Bindra’s Crown Your Customer and her book Tracking The Scent of My Mother in 2007. They hosted a Nyama Choma Fiesta hoping to sell a large chunk of the 20,000 books they had produced on December 16, 2007. The event was very poorly attended leading to massive losses. The post election crisis was triggered on December 28 and there was no way to distribute the books with the usual distributors in the new year. They eventually got into a partnership with the (now defunct) Uchumi Supermarket after convincing friends at the company.Through that all, they were only able to sell 300 books. That experience made them change their strategy; they started publishing books mainly aimed at kids.
“Today was a great day for Kenyan writers.”
Chief Executive Officer,
Writers Guild Kenya
In his remarks, Gabriel Ndinda spoke about the journey that Writers Guild Kenya, the organisation that he leads, went through since it was started when he was still a student of Finance and Economics at the Kenyatta University in 2013. Since they started the journey, they have had a phenomenal growth with over 3000 members across the country; they also have a bookshop which stocks books written only by African writers in the city of Nairobi.
Prof Kithaka Wa Mberia broadened the discussion informing attendants to discard the falsehood that has long been peddled that the first African writers were Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Grace Ogot, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Taban Lo Liyong, and the rest of them. We have been writing in Kenya for the last 400 years in Arabic. He was excited about the new initiative with Naivas that allows people to get books where they are doing their regular shopping.
“The Kenyan story is best told by a Kenyan,”
Chief Commercial Officer,
Will Kimani, the Chief Commercial Officer at Naivas Kenya, spoke about going into the business of distributing books to the Kenyan public as their contribution to their society which is why they only take 10% of the price (most distributors take between 25-40%). He promised to continue supporting the writers who deliver their books to them.
The Keynote speaker, The Standard Group CEO Orlando Lyomu, spoke about the importance of the languages that we spoke in as well as the need to change the education system in the country to ensure that our children can take advantage of their natural talents.
Watch the event streamed by clicking here.