Kenya Literature Bureau (KLB) is one of the largest publishing houses in East Africa. In 2009 , the state corporation broke new ground by launching eBooks on the local market ahead of any of the other players in the business. eLearning Africa had the opportunity to talk with Eve Obara, KLB’s Chief Executive Officer, about the recent changes in educational publishing, the boom in local content production and the growing interest in indigenous languages.
eLA: Mrs Obara, how do you see the current situation in the educational publishing industry in East Africa?
Eve Obara: The educational publishing industry in the region has come on in leaps and bounds. For instance, the Kenyan government’s introduction of free primary education and subsidised secondary education has led to unprecedented growth in educational publishing in Kenya. Additionally, the signing of the East African Community protocol has also opened doors for publishers within the region to participate in the development of educational materials, not only for their nationals but also for other countries as well.
[callout title=About KLB]
Kenya Literature Bureau has its roots in the East African Literature Bureau, which was established in 1947 by the British High Commission.
It became a department in the Ministry of Education in 1977, when the East African Community collapsed, and was transformed into a parastatal on July 4, 1980, through an Act of Parliament.
The Bureau has published more than 900 titles in a wide range of areas for the local and international markets.
Kenya Literature Bureau is now publishing educational books for Uganda and is currently pursuing Rwanda. We are also studying the situation in Burundi, Tanzania and Southern Sudan, which is a likely candidate for the East African Community after secession.
eLA: What trends have you identified?
Eve Obara: In addition to educational books, there is a growing demand in the market for books for general readership such as ‘How To Do It Yourself’ books. The market is in dire need of personal development books, such as those that deal with issues like how to cope with marital problems, how to invest in the stock exchange, how to manage one’s finances, among others.
There is also a growing interest in electronic materials, though this area is currently not well developed due to the absence of a robust ICT infrastructure. However, we are happy to note that the Government of Kenya is establishing this infrastructure, and the future of educational publishing is to be taken in this direction. KLB has responded to this by developing eBooks.
eLA: What role do eBooks and other digital technologies play within KLB’s current activities? Once a proper infrastructure is in place, electronic publishing could replace print media, which tends to be fleeting and sensitive to exterior conditions such as heat or humidity.
Eve Obara: Electronic content is at the heart of KLB’s current plan. eLearning is being considered by the Kenyan government to complement the traditional models of learning as its advantages are numerous. The government is currently developing an ICT infrastructure to facilitate eLearning and is also building capacity in schools and other learning institutions. The cost of bandwidth is expected to fall significantly with the installation in Kenya of two fibre optic cables.
Kenya Literature Bureau has embarked on a programme to develop electronic materials by digitising existing titles and developing new ones in e-format. For example, we have published educational books for English, Kiswahili, General Science and Social Studies in digital formats to be sold on CD.
We still recognise that print will continue to play a significant role in publishing in the East African Region, but the use of eBooks will expand dramatically in the next few years. For instance, all the East African Community countries are developing policies for eLearning in their educational systems. These, in our view, will continue to co-exist.
eLA: We at eLearning Africa often hear complaints about the lack of good local content for educational institutions all over the Continent. What is your view? Where does your content come from?
Eve Obara: This used to be the case several decades ago, when publishing in Africa was largely under the control of foreign publishers. Indigenous publishing companies have now emerged and changed the face of publishing in Africa tremendously.
The market is now full of local content developed by local authors, and national curriculum development agencies have defined local content as one of the criteria with which to measure the appropriateness and relevance of materials for our schools.
For instance, any book in Kenya that does not reflect the local environment is not awarded approval status by the Kenya Institute of Education, a body mandated with the responsibility of evaluating all learning and teaching materials for use in Kenyan schools.
eLA: The publishing market seems to be dominated by the English language. Do you see a demand for content in local languages? What is KLB’s strategy in this field?
Eve Obara: To some extent the country is experiencing a renaissance in terms of the value of local languages, but the demand for content in this area is still relatively low.
The reality of the Kenyan publishing industry is that about eighty percent of it is educational, and this is dominated by the English language. We are now operating in a global environment which requires that we use an international language.
However, to cater for the growing interest in local languages, Kenya Literature Bureau has embarked on a plan to publish books in local languages. To this end, we have started publishing course books[callout title=About Eve A. Obara]
Mrs Eve Obara is the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Literature Bureau, Kenya’s leading book publisher and printer.
An MBA graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA, Mrs Obara is an innovative leader and experienced manager. Under her prudent stewardship, Kenya Literature Bureau has made an indelible mark in the publishing industry and the education sector.
As well as being an outstanding corporate figure, Mrs Obara is also an influential personality in philanthropy. She has devoted invaluable efforts to the promotion of the status of women in society and the education of girls.
In 2008, Mrs Obara was one of a group of renowned Kenyans to be awarded the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) by the President. This award is given to Kenyans who have provided an invaluable service to the nation.
[/callout]for classes 1-3 in some of the local languages such as Dholuo, Kikuyu, Kikamba and Lulogooli. We intend to extend this to all other languages over time. We also envision a brand for cultural books for all the cultural groups in the country as a way of preserving indigenous cultures.
eLA: In 2010, KLB was represented at eLearning Africa. What did you learn from the conference? How did KLB benefit?
Eve Obara: Kenya Literature Bureau’s main lesson at eLA 2010 in Lusaka was that the world is ready for e-content, and that eLearning has numerous advantages. We also learnt that we need to build sufficient capacity for the development of e-content, as this is an idea whose time has come. We also noted that other markets in Africa were opening up for eLearning and that the market for eContent extends beyond national borders.