Publishing in Afriacan Languages Using Editions Bakame as a Model

by Agnes Gyr-Ukunda


Before talking about publishing in a national language and showing the experience of Editions Bakame, I would like to say a word about the author. What happens before a book gets to the publisher’s hands? Which language should the author write in to attract the interest of his young readers? What happens at the writing level?

In a country like ours, where children’s and young adults’ literature is still in its first stages and where publishers in our national language are scarce, you can ask if there are writers of this literature. And if there are, why do we not read them? This makes us think of the book chain (author-illustrator-publisher-printer-book-shop-reader), which does not exist or is not solid enough in many African countries and certainly not in Rwanda.

Publishing children’s books in national languages

What language should the author write in to attract young people? Must he write in the national language, the maternal language understood by everyone, or at least the majority, of citizens? Or must he choose between the two foreign languages used in this country, which are those of the old colonists?

These basic questions lead us to ask again:

-What is the difference between national language and maternal language?

-What role does children’s and young adult’s literature play in the educational process?

According to a Rwandan researcher, Faustin Kabanza, the national language is defined as the language expressing the moral values, the identity and the law that a country lives by. This language may be official if its original region is politically neutral for the countries having several regional languages. The maternal language is by definition the set of verbal signs that communicate children with their immediate surroundings and the community in which they develop. It is the language used at home. In this maternal language children listen to their first songs, those lullabies their mother sings.

In this language they will listen to their first stories. This is the language they are going to speak.

The maternal language lets children feel good at home with their family, to evolve in their communication process; they find their identity thanks to these signs that rule their community.

Regarding the question about which language must a writer use in order to attract young readers, I believe that by choosing to write in the maternal language of the child, she/he is sure of being read and understood without any problem, if her/his stories are attractive.

Books written in the maternal language are of interest for children and teachers, because children who read, write and learn in their maternal language from their first years at school, acquire solid bases for a social and intellectual development that will allow them to learn and know foreign languages with more ease.

Which language should be used in teaching: national languages or foreign languages?

Disadvantages of teaching in another language

Educational structures based on foreign languages or foreign cultures disarrange in a certain way the child’s social and intellectual behavior, who in everyday life is facing tradition.

On the long term, the less educated population will not be able to assimilate new technologies taught in a foreign language, not well known by most.

If the foreign language is the first linguistic way of communication that will inexorably stall the economic and social development.

At the same time, national or indigenous languages are downgraded to useless dialects, like in colonial times.

There are parents who go further: they educate their children encouraging them to express themselves in a foreign language that has become prestigious.

These children learn only rudiments of their maternal language and they cannot express themselves correctly; linguistically or socially; they are foreigners at their own homes.

Advantages: Like I have said, children who start their education in their maternal language learn and assimilate easily, everything is familiar to them. They stay within their social and cultural environment.

Considering these criteria, writing, publishing and promoting children’s literature in national languages becomes the dutiful thing to do.



Editions Bakame

Founded in 1995, after the genocide in 1994, Editions Bakame aimed to give children reading books in Kinyarwanda to help them overcome the horrors of war by means of healthy reading based on their culture. Today, Editions Bakame is the first Rwandan publisher to offer children’s and youth’s literature in Kinyarwanda, national language understood by all Rwandans. It publishes stories, documentaries, novels for young adults and picture books. It was not easy to create children’s literature in a country when oral performance and rhetoric are the means of expression, where writing is recent.

In the course of its ten-year experience, Editions Bakame has faced other difficulties linked to the fact that children’s literature is not well known among us, and also the difficulties regarding the passage from oral to written performance.

It is easy to tell a story to an attentive public, the narrator’s language adapts to the gestures and glances of his listeners.

But when the same narrator writes down her/his story, she/he is not facing her/his auditorium’s glances but the exigencies of writing. Spoken language can make the story attractive by banal sentences and familiar sayings. That has been well pointed out by Dominique Mwankumi, president of Illusafrica, in his workshops about writing and illustrating. Thanks to this training offered by professionals of children’s literature, Editions Bakame has progressed in the quality of its publications. Besides the workshops, Editions Bakame has begun reading animation sessions to help children become familiar with books. This has been a real success among teachers and parents who have told us that children who participate in these reading animations sessions, read and write better.

In conclusion

I can assert that the books published by Editions Bakame in Kinyarwanda are of evident success among children and adults for the following reasons:

1) They are written in a language understood by everyone.

2) Their writing is simple and according to the children’s ages.

3) They are illustrated.

4) Their stories take place in the Rwandan and African context.

5) Their unitary price is affordable.

Bu the sales and distributing networks are still too weak, because a book is a luxury object for many Rwandans.

There is not a reading culture.

The public and school libraries in the districts are few.

The purchasing power of the population is very low.

Agnes Gyr/ 29 June, 2006

(translated from French by María Candelaria Posada)