In Rwandan society, a child has always been highly regarded. Hence, children’s literature is not something new for Rwandans. Traditionally, literature dedicated to children was conveyed orally from generation to generation, and dominating genres were ‘Ibihozo’ (children’s songs), riddles, and folktales. Literature dedicated to children was different from adult literature in terms of content, style, and language.
When missionaries came in Rwanda, people started learning to write and read. Though they were educated for religious purpose, it was the occasion for them to start using writing as one of their means to convey their traditional literature.
The first written content dedicated to children was ‘Cyabana’ a rubric introduced by the newspaper known as ‘Kinyamateka’ in 1934, just a year after its foundation. In 1940, the first illustrated story for children ‘Matabaro Ajya i Burayi’ by Abbé Alexis Kagame was published in ‘Cyabana’.
In 1954, Bishop Aloys Bigirumwami introduced ‘Hobe’, a children magazine that played an important role in the promotion of reading for pleasure among children and young people. Over the following years, stories for children were also published in ‘Rafiki Journal’, and later, another magazine named ‘Bakame’ published only 4 issues.
In 1995, Bakame Editions was founded by Agnes Gyr Ukunda, and it is still publishing books for children and young adults. Being today the most experienced publishing house, Bakame Editions is considered as the pioneer of the book industry in Rwanda.
Around 1996, foreign publishing houses were attracted with Rwandan market and some Rwandans who worked with them ended up starting their own publishing companies. The result was SBD, Excel Education Partners, and more.
Rwandan children’s book industry experienced a significant growth when Save the Children started projects that aim at giving children access to quality books in their mother tongue. Since then, a significant increase in number of publishing companies dedicated to children literature was witnessed. More than 20 publishing companies are currently operating in Rwanda, and children’s books are a priority for almost all of them.
The dominating format on Rwandan children’s book market is picture book, and genres are mainly realistic fiction, fantasy, folktales, historical fiction, and information books.
‘Andika Rwanda’, an annual national competition for writing stories and poems for children is also impacting positively children’s book industry in Rwanda. Children with writing talent have chance to get published and their colleagues show up a great enthusiasm reading their works.
Through ‘Rwanda Reads’, an initiative of the Ministry of Education dedicated to promoting a culture of reading and literacy throughout the country, all stakeholders in the book industry meet and share information to foster synergies among them. Publishers dedicated to children’s literature also strengthen their togetherness through their Rwanda Children’s Book Forum (RCBF) where they meet to discuss their challenges and find solutions to them.
To move with today’s fast-paced digital world, some libraries like Kigali Public Library and Library for All are accessible online.
Rwandan children's book industry is gaining an international visibility. Since 2006 Rwanda became the 70th member of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) and some international prizes have been won by Rwandan publishers. I can say the Bologna Ragazzi New Horizons Award for the book Ubucuti bw’Imbeba n’Inzovu by Bakame Editions in 2005, IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award won by Bakame Editions in 2008, BOP Bologna Prize Best Children’s Publisher of the Year in Africa won by Bakame Editions in 2013 and more.
Below is the list of some Rwandan publishers I met on different occasions.
- Bakame Editions
- School Books Distributors (SBD)
- Excel Education Partners
- Kibondo Editions
- Mudacumura Publishing House
- Arise Education
- Cactus Publishers
- Furaha Publishers
- Iga Publisher
- Perdua Publishers
- G&I Publishers
- Ubuntu Publishers
- Winners Communications
- Espace Littéraire Soma
- Rise and Shine
- Strong Generation
- Imagine We
- Penda Kusoma
- Plume d’Or