All African Peoples Conference was held in Accra Ghana from 5th to 8th December 2018. The conference was organised in collaboration with the the Trades Union Congress (TUC) of Ghana, the Socialist Forum of Ghana (SFG), Third World Network-Africa and Lincoln University, USA. It was to encourage participants to engage in open and dispassionate reflection on the African condition in the contemporary world, against the backdrop of the 1958 conference. More than 300 delegates drawn from different countries in Africa as well as members of the African descent from foreign states were also represented. Njoki Wamai a member of Ukombozi Library Committee represented the library. The following is the speech she delivered.
Africa’s information has been captured and held by forces of imperialism. People do not have access to relevant information – all they are fed by imperialist-dominated mass media, public libraries and educational institutions is information from the point of view of capitalism and that which supports the ruling classes, African and foreign. Their constant message is TINA – There is No Alternative to capitalism and imperialism. This message is then reinforced by not allowing information about resistance to capitalism and imperialism taking place around the world from reaching the people in relevant form and language. Socialism is a nonexistent subject in public domain under this system. The same goes for information, outlook, vision that drove Kenya’s war of independence. Mau Mau is either not mentioned or made to look incompetent and without a clear ideology. Its leaders are demonised. The situation that imperialism is trying to silence is exactly what Mau Mau warned about:
Kenya’s Uhuru must not be transformed into freedom to exploit, or freedom to be hungry, and live in ignorance. Uhuru must be Uhuru for the masses — Uhuru from exploitation, from ignorance, disease and poverty (Pio Gama Pinto,1963).
This message is too dangerous for ruling classes so it is suppressed under the control systems on information.
Public Libraries are deprived of resources by comprador regimes which have money for vast projects from which they gain massive kickbacks but not for libraries. Progressive libraries which can widen perspectives and expand people’s horizons are non-existent. The model of public libraries set up by colonialism has remained in a “free” Kenya. These do not meet the information needs of Africa’s workers, peasants, and other working people. The key point to emphasise is that under colonial and neo-colonial models that has been imposed on Africa/Kenya, there are sharp class divisions with the power handed over to a comprador clique and working people deprived not only of their land, livelihood, health care, education that their fight for independence was all about, but their information needs as well. Public libraries are forced to depend on material donated by overseas publishers and these do not challenge the status quo. The British Council, USIS and other agencies from France, Germany and other imperialist powers then have a field day filling minds of Kenyans with ideas and experiences that glorify capitalism and imperialism while suppressing liberation information from Kenya, Africa and around the world. African traditional information systems which satisfied people’s information needs in an earlier period have not been allowed to adopt to new needs. They have either been suppressed or made to serve capitalist needs.
Resistance in Information and Communication
The above situation has generated a large amount of resistance by working people in Kenya. Workers, peasants, students and many other organised groups have sought their own ways of resisting the imprisonment of their minds and their country. Among them are progressive information workers, students, political activists and their organisation. They reasoned that institutions established by neocolonialism and ruling classes cannot, and will not, liberate their minds. They saw the essence of Assata Shakur’s guidance:
No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.
It is on this basis that the Ukombozi Library was set up in 2017 by the Progressive African Library and Information Activists’ Group (PALIAct) in partnership with Vita Books and the Mau Mau Research Centre in Nairobi. The Library aims to make available progressive material and to encourage reading, study and research by working people in Kenya. The need for such a library follows from the fact that progressive literature has been generally ignored by most libraries and learning institutions.
The Ukombozi Library has an initial collection of almost a thousand titles of progressive material, mostly books but also pamphlets, videos and photographs. A majority of these are classics which are either out of print or cannot be found in the local bookshops. Other material has been donated by Mau Mau Research Centre, Vita Books and many progressive individuals active in the information struggle in Kenya.
The Ukombozi Library has initiated the Community ReachOut project which breaks the colonial library mould and takes the library to various communities to enhance personal and national development. Community groups, libraries and institutions are welcomed to be institutional members of the Ukombozi Library. The institutional members borrow up to 5 titles from the Ukombozi Library for a maximum of 2 months. This initiative has already started with Mathare Social Justice Centre.
Membership is open to all who agree with the vision and principles of the library, irrespective of class, ethnicity, religion, gender, region, race or disability. Individuals or institutional membership is available on payment of [or the] appropriate fee. A number of people have registered majority being social justice activists. Members borrows materials for a period of two weeks. The library has a management committee which enhances efficiency and effectiveness in it service to the members as well as working people. The library is located on the Second Floor of University Way House (Uni House) next to Lilian Towers Hotel (Safari Club) along University Way.
People who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legistlative reform in place of and in contradiction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the established of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society…. Our program becomes not the realization of Socialism, but the reform of capitalism; not the suppression of the system of the wage labor, but the diminution of exploitation, that is, the suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of the suppression of capitalism itself.― Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution.
There is no democracy without socialism, and no socialism without democracy.
Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism