Are We an ‘Illiterate-Literate’ Country?


That there is a dearth of readership in the country is not in contention. Majority of Kenyans, so it has been said, will read in order to pass examinations. Rarely do we see youths engaged in literary discourses outside the domains of learning institutions. And with plenty of idle time at their hands, most have their eyes glued to their smartphones going through social media sites updating their status, liking posts, befriending or simply following strangers.

  Social media may be a forum where literary wannabes will pout their frustrations on and forth. Going by the posts on some sites like Facebook, there’s no deniability we’ve great or promising literary minds in our youngsters out there. Some posts are creatively worded whilst other begs the sanity of minds behind them. Cyberspace, other than being a literary forum of sorts, is too a literature waterloo at the same time.

  Formal literacy language many are used to is on a slow death kneel with street slang increasing becoming the lingua franca of the social media highway. Sheng and abbreviated acronyms are taking a central command no wonder tutors decries of falling language standards during national examinations.

  There had been heated debates in the past on whether sheng should be incorporated in school syllabus as it’s the conveyance language of many a young, mostly urban dweller, way of expression. Critics to continued examination of our children in Queen’s English points the Caribbean nations and West Africa where evolution of Pidgin English had brought its acceptability and wider usage in those parts. More, we’ve given our native languages a wide berth while falling over ourselves in enunciating the Queen’s language than a born native English speaker.

  That we’ve a command of foreign tongue doesn’t always translate in bequeathing our country rich literary gems. Apart from societal big shots who are releasing memoirs each other year, many greenhorns’ finds it uphill making a literary break. Tellingly, local publishers shun budding and unheralded authors for big shots despite the latter penning shallow and depth appalling works – or hiring seasoned writers to tell their stories.

  This is what sees the shunned would be great authors turn to the risky venture of self-publishing. Some turns to blogging to stay relevant in the literary world. As can be seen, lack of an editorial input makes their works or blogs lack a literary finesse. That goes into saying Kenyans can read and write but tell their stories in an awful mode and style!

  Taking into consideration the so called dot com generation, their shortened version of Martian sounding words puts many off. Not everyone is conversant with marrying of two phonetic dialects into one to come with alien sounding words. Take the example of the word serious. When written as ‘crias’, one is hard put identifying whether it’s a verb, noun or a word item. What too does a roadside signage reading “Hey for Sell” tell of our literate population that can’t put a simple message without some level of idiocy?

  Lest we forget, established publishing houses are obsessed with churning out academic oriented materials as that is where profit is to be made. Which publisher will toy with works of an unknown but a promising local writer who had hardly cut his teeth in the literary circle? The heavyweights in Kenya’s writing cycles, even if they were to submit works to these publishers that sounds nothing sort of gibberish, would rest assured the publishers will have good editors to fine-tune their scripts, short of rewriting them anew, to publishable level. The same courtesy cannot be extended to budding literary enthusiasts who will have their works consigned to the slush pile!

  Is the country short of writers who can't tell stories in a similar fashion as their Western counterparts? I don’t think so, but why do we promote the work of foreigners at the expense of our homegrown writers? Notice the kind of set books our high school students are examined in, and in case of anthologies, you’ll find a short story from one or two local writers making the selection cut. It is not that I’m enviable of non-local writers, given that our writers too are read in schools outside our borders as well, but making this observation that we don’t appreciate our own!

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