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Among the various forms of cultural expression, choosing to become an author of novels or poetry is probably your worst bet in Rwanda.

Editor Felcien Gapfizi thinks that writing or reading competitions could contribute to the development of a reading culture. (file photo)

Editor Felcien Gapfizi thinks thatwriting or reading competitionscould contribute to thedevelopment of a readingculture. (file photo)

Felcien Gapfizi a senior editor at Palotti Press in Gikondo, thinks there is reason to worry about Rwanda’s integration in East Africa, at least when it comes to literature. As he points out, our level of socio-cultural publications like novels, poems, short stories, etc. is dismal.

“Writing and publication are still at a low pace, I’m much concerned that we may be looked down upon. I wonder why this is so, since we have got what to publish. I believe Rwanda has known a variety of experiences that can generate interesting stories,” Gapfizi says.

Currently, most publications concerns academic research by institutions like IRST (Institute of scientific and technological research), NUR (National University of Rwanda) and IRDP (Rwandese institute of dialogue for peace). According to Gapfizi, these institutions are the only ones who publish at a regular rate, yet obviously they only produce historical, political and scientific work, not literature or poetry.

“It is very unfortunate that we Rwandans have not yet adopted a culture of reading, this explains to me why we are still lagging behind in socio-cultural writings and publications. Moreover, the few people who used to write have mostly taken on other responsibilities, so it is very hard for them to sacrifice some time to writing,” Gapfizi explains.

Another part of the problem is the lack of a proper supply and demand process: there are hardly any active and modern publishing companies around, and given the still limited purchasing power among the population, only few people can afford to pay for books.

Then there is the language, which can also be an impediment to writing and publishing. According to Gapfizi, East Africans found it very easy to write in English and communicate without problems with the rest of the world, while Rwandans are still struggling with language issues, writing either in French, English or Kinyarwanda.

“Language sure is a barrier to the national writing,” the editor argues. “We have a number of children and young writers with interesting stories, but they are often still stuck in the use of their native language and are not yet able to write in English or French.”

He admits, though, that the publishing industry itself also bears some of the blame. “Few printing or publishing companies do anything to motivate young children into this field. In the late 90s, Palotti Press used to organize writing competitions in schools, but because of lack of funds we don’t do it anymore. And yet if it could have continued, I believe we could have generated more good writers today,” Gapfizi says.

Obviously, not everybody makes a good writer – not only does it require talent, but writing is also a time-consuming business, according to Francois Xavier Gasimba, a former writer who is now a lecturer at Kigali Institute of Education.

“The production of a novel or a collection of poems can easily take two years, where you consecrate almost three hours per day to your writing,” Gasimba explains. “Obviously, with the struggle of life and other responsibilities, it is very hard to find that time – most people prefer to do something that brings in some money.”

He too thinks that the lack of reading culture and the various languages used in the country constitute a major obstacle. Indeed, imagine the situation: after two years of blood, sweat and tears, you have finally finished your masterpiece. Yet then you discover that not only is the number of people willing and able to buy books very low, the market is further fragmented into three or four language groups. In the end, if your lucky enough to find a publisher, upon seeing the sales figures you will throw down your pen in disgust, wondering whether it was really worth the effort.

Now that would be an interesting subject for a novel – The Woeful Writer.

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