Libraries and Linguisitc Imperialism in Uganda


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What do community libraries in Uganda do? presented at African Studies Association meetings, Nov. 2010

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Libraries and Linguisitc Imperialism in Uganda

  1. 1. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism? Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism? Kate Parry Hunter College City University of New YorkLibraries in UgandaUganda has had a network of public libraries since the 1960s, set up soon after independenceunder a central Public Libraries Board. The principle was to have a library in every districtheadquarters, which meant some seventeen libraries at the time. Since the Uganda ResistanceMovement came to power in the late 1980s, many new districts have been established, but thepublic libraries have not kept up, so there are now many districts that have no library at all.Meanwhile, responsibility for the old libraries was handed over in the late 1990s to localgovernments as part of a more general move towards decentralization. The National Library ofUganda still oversees them and offers advice and training, but it does not have the funding or thelegal authority to participate in their management. Some have fallen on hard times inconsequence, since for most local authorities—as, indeed, for the central government—supportfor libraries is a low priority. Yet the first decade of the third millennium has seen a remarkable growth of libraries inUganda. The evidence is in the membership figures of the Uganda Community LibrariesAssociation: when it was launched in 2007, it had fourteen member libraries, but within threeyears that number had increased by nearly 400% (see Figure 1). Page 1 of 24
  2. 2. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism? 80 67 70 60 50 46 41 40 30 25 20 14 16 16 10 0 Aug-07 Feb-08 Jul-08 Feb-09 Jul-09 Jan-10 Aug-10 Number of member libraries 14 16 16 25 41 46 67 Number of member librariesFigure 1: Growth of UgCLA August 2007 to August 2010These libraries are scattered over most of the country (see Figure 2), though the Central andEastern regions have many more than do the Northern and Western ones, and the centralnorthern districts have none at all, hardly surprisingly since for twenty years until 2008 that areawas ravaged by war. Page 2 of 24
  3. 3. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism? Uganda Northwestern 9 Northeastern 1 Western Eastern 9 11 16 Central 29Figure 2: Distribution of UgCLA member librariesNote: There is one member from Rwanda that is not included in this map.Many of these libraries predated UgCLA, but not by long; the earliest was established in the1990s, but most are the product of the present millennium. In a country that is regularlydescribed as ―lacking a reading culture‖ this rapid development is a remarkable phenomenon,and to people who have been raised on books it is a hopeful one: what could be more desirable,and less controversial, than supporting libraries? Yet recent debates have raised troubling issueswith regard to cultural and linguistic relations between the so-called ―First‖ and ―Third‖ Worlds,issues that must be addressed in any project concerning language and literacy. My purpose in thispaper, then, is to examine Uganda’s community libraries in the light of these debates. Page 3 of 24
  4. 4. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?Libraries and linguistic imperialismPublic libraries such as those mentioned in the beginning of this paper have not had a happyhistory in Africa. Professional librarians stress their colonial origins: Britain passed on an intellectual inheritance to its former colonies which included the idea that the library, particularly the public library, was an essential feature of the complete nation state. What is more, it effectively prescribed the form such libraries should take by the introduction of models in various of its colonial possessions. (Sturges & Neill, 1998, p. 82)The association of libraries with colonialism recurs regularly in Aissa Issak’s wide rangingreview of publications and reports of libraries in Africa (2000). Alemna (1995) ―considers thatlibrary services based on Western models and implemented in Africa by colonial administrationsare not suitable for the majority of the African people‖; Lauridsen (1997) asserts that ―librarieslargely still reflect colonial values‖; Ogundipe (1998) writes of ―negative aspects‖ of ―thecolonial contribution to librarianship in developing countries‖; Rosenberg (1993) ―presents theview that the creation of national library systems by colonial governments was based on thedesire to hold on to some control over their former colonies‖; and Cram (1993) goes so far as tosuggest that there is a current practice of ―library colonialism‖. Consequently, African publiclibrary systems are based on a model that has been characterized as ―anachronistic andinappropriate‖ (Mostert, 2001). These criticisms from librarians are echoed in the debates that have taken place in thefield of English language teaching. A seminal publication in this regard is Linguistic Imperialism Page 4 of 24
  5. 5. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?by Robert Phillipson (1992), in which he argues that a language is not a neutral tool but is bothembedded in and supportive of social, cultural, and political structures. The English language, inparticular, is a critical factor in the maintenance of an imperialist structure by which a―developed‖ British and American center dominates a ―developing‖, largely Asian and African,periphery (Galtung, 1980). This ―linguistic imperialism‖, in contrast to the political imperialismthat gave rise to it, works by hegemony rather than conquest: people in the periphery arepersuaded that English is superior to local languages and that to become truly well informed andmodern they must neglect their own languages in order to learn it. Alastair Pennycook presents arather more complex picture, but he too asserts that ―to use English is to engage in social actionwhich produces and reproduces social and cultural relations,‖ and, ―given the dominant positionof English in the world … there are inevitable questions to be asked here concerning languageand inequality‖ (1994, pp. 34-35). Citing Said (1994), Pennycook maintains that ―dominationand authority are not just questions of social, economic or physical control but rather are alsoeffected through discourse‖ (p. 60), and the problem with English is that it has been and still isthe major language of imperialist discourse. He provides an extended quotation that makes thepoint even more strongly than he does himself: Let us be clear that English has been a monumental force and institution of oppression and rabid exploitation throughout 400 years of imperialist history. It attacked the black person who spoke it with its racist images and imperialist message, it battered the worker who toiled as its words expressed the parameters of his misery and the subjection of entire peoples in all the continents of the world. It was made to scorn the languages it sought to replace, and told the Page 5 of 24
  6. 6. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism? colonized peoples that mimicry of its primacy among languages was a necessary badge of their social mobility as well as their continued humiliation and subjection. Thus, when we talk of ―mastery‖ of the Standard language, we must be conscious of the terrible irony of the word, that the English language itself was the language of the master, the carrier of his arrogance and brutality. (Searle, 1983, p. 68, quoted in Pennycook 1994, pp. 308-309) Such a damning indictment requires us to think carefully about what we are doing insupporting libraries in Africa. Not only are they in origin colonial institutions which, accordingto the library literature, maintain colonial practices, but they also promote colonial languages—especially English, since libraries have historically been few in francophone Africa and almostnon-existent in lusophone (Sturges & Neill, 1998, p. 81). Thus libraries are implicated in whatPhillipson calls linguicism—the privileging of a particular language over others—and they arepropagating and endorsing the discourse that defines the African as a marginalized Other. Thesuspicion that libraries operate is this way is strengthened by the interest taken in them by theBritish Council (which is the particular villain of Phillipson’s narrative) and the United StatesInformation Service (now run directly by the Department of State through US embassies).Visitors to the municipal libraries of Fort Portal and Mbale in Uganda, for instance, will befamiliar with the ―American Corners‖ that the US Embassy has set up there, where students mayfind out about American politics and institutions of learning. Libraries, too, are the majorrecipients of donated books, which are typically publishers’ remainders or the cast offs of grown-up children from western countries. Such donations can be demeaning for the recipients, are all Page 6 of 24
  7. 7. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?too often inappropriate and irrelevant, and undermine the development of independent Africanpublishing by feeding the notion that books should be free (Waruingi, 2009).Objections and questionsIf this is true, how are we to interpret the impressive growth of community libraries documentedat the beginning of this paper? Is it merely an extension of the linguistic imperialist project? Thepossibility must be taken seriously, but not without consideration of the objections that havebeen raised to the thesis. The questions suggested by those objections will then be used as aguide to examining the situation on the ground. The first objection is that in emphasizing the hegemony of the center, the model oflinguistic imperialism denies agency to the people of the periphery; they are portrayed as―passive recipients of language policy‖ (Brutt-Griffler, 2002, p. viii) with ―malleable minds‖ thatcan easily be shaped into ―false consciousness‖(Pennycook, 1994, pp. 55-56). Yet in the processof language spread ―the essential actor is the acquiring speech community‖ (Brutt-Griffler, 2002,p. 23), and Brutt-Griffler’s and Pennycook’s detailed historical accounts of the spread of Englishin the British Empire demonstrate that it was more often than not the colonized who insisted onaccess to English even against the wishes of their colonial masters. At the same time there wereand are groups, such as the Karimojong in Uganda and the fishing communities of the NigerDelta, who have actively resisted education [get ref. to Andema 2003] (Ekpe & Evogor, 2005, p.206), suggesting that whether or not people learned English in colonial times was not entirely afunction of colonial policies; the decisions of prospective language learners were at least asimportant. In postcolonial times too, while the offspring of the elite may find themselves usingEnglish without consciously choosing to do so (Mazrui & Mazrui, 1998, p. 149), the majority, in Page 7 of 24
  8. 8. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?Uganda especially, are extremely active in demanding schooling and the language skills that gowith it (Parry, 2009a, p. 83). So, we clearly cannot assume that libraries are institutions imposedfrom the Center, whether that Center be the Anglo-American metropolises or the elites thatinherited colonial authority. We need to look at the libraries themselves and ask the question ofagency: Who set them up? Who determines their policies? And who makes use of their services? A second objection to the linguistic imperialism argument is that it assumes that the useof an alien language necessarily implies acceptance of the culture and values that are associatedwith it. The well-known Kenyan novelist, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, is the most frequently quotedproponent of this view: The domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonizing nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonized. (Ngugi wa Thiongo, 1986, p. 16)The logical conclusion of this line of thinking is that to write in English is to perpetuate the―colonization of the mind‖ that is implemented by reading it, a conclusion that led to Ngũgĩ’sdecision to write his fiction in his native Gikuyu (Talib, 2002). Few other African writers havereacted in this way, however. The most commonly cited on the other side of the argument is theequally well known Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe: The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. … I feel that the English language will be able Page 8 of 24
  9. 9. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism? to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings. (Achebe, 1975, pp. 100, 103)For Achebe, then, the influence could go the other way: the language could be altered to expressthe culture (cf. Mazrui & Mazrui, 1998, pp. 54-55). Explorations of postcolonial literaturesuggest that Achebe is right on this point, for they show authors from the Periphery appropriatingEnglish, changing it, and using it to ―write back‖ against the Center (Francia, 1993; Pennycook,1994; Rushdie & West, 1997; Talib, 2002). The question concerning libraries, then, is about thematerials that they make available: Do these materials represent Anglo-American culture andpromote its hegemony? Or, in so far as they are in English, do they represent the appropriation ofthe language for the expression of African concerns and identities? A third assumption made by Phillipson—and, indeed, Ngũgĩ—is that to promote Englishis to detract from and denigrate other languages. This suggests a subtractive view of bilingualismthat is common in countries where monolingualism is the norm, but it does not make much sensein Africa, where most people, as is well known, have at least two languages (Mazrui & Mazrui,1998, p. 81). English is frequently one of the mix, having spread, as Brutt-Griffler puts it,through the process of macroacquisition—i.e. acquisition by speech communities—without, inmost of Africa, any significant immigration of native speakers. The outcome, Brutt-Grifflermaintains, has been and is likely to remain stable bilingualism at the societal level (2002, pp.116-120) similar to what has also been documented in India (Sridhar, 1989). We cannot say that there is no problem, however, even if the society’s use of Englishmay not entail the loss of other languages; the unease so frequently expressed about the need to Page 9 of 24
  10. 10. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?use it indicates strongly that there is (Parry, 2009a, pp. 81-84). That problem, I would suggest,lies not only in the imperial history of English but in the functions for which it is used: for formalpurposes, for dealings with the Center at the national as well as the international level, andespecially for most activities that require writing (Schmied, 1991). As a result the growth ofwritten traditions in African languages is inhibited, so there is no insurance against language lossfor those languages that have few speakers. It is also horribly difficult for African children tolearn to read and for African populations as a whole to become literate. Languages that are inoral use can, however, be developed for literate purposes, as was the case with English in thesixteenth century (Barber, 1997), and libraries, as institutions that promote literacy, could play arole in that process. Another set of questions, then, is to do with language use: not only whichlanguages are the libraries’ materials in but how do people use those materials, and in whichlanguages do they talk about them?The situation on the groundThis section will attempt to answer the questions raised above by presenting factual informationabout the libraries that are members of the Uganda Community Libraries Association. Theinformation was collected between 2008 and 2010 through personal visits to 55 of the 67libraries, supplemented by responses submitted by twelve of them to a questionnaire thatUgCLA sent out in February 2010, proposals written by fourteen of them for a project involvingthe use of children’s books, reports written by ten for the same project, and oral interaction in thecourse of six workshops that UgCLA has organized to enable those managing the libraries toshare experiences and best practices. The figures given here are based on the data that we haveon all the libraries, collated and then analyzed with respect to the questions raised above. They Page 10 of 24
  11. 11. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?are minimum numbers, since I have only counted a library in a particular category when I havepositive evidence that it belongs there; I have not counted any where I am not sure, even thoughit seems likely. The quotations are taken from a journal that I maintain of visits to libraries; theaccount is often written some days after a visit, but it is always based on notes made by hand atthe time.AgencyOne respect in which the UgCLA libraries differ markedly from the public libraries discussedabove is in their provenance. None was initiated as a government project, and although thepeople who set them up take pains to establish good relations with local government authorities,those authorities tolerate them rather than give active support. Often the impetus to establish acommunity library comes from an individual inspired by the wish to make life better for his (orher, but most of them are men) own people. He may no longer live in the community, but hisfamily is usually still there, and they keep an eye on the project. Family members as well as otherlocal leaders are also brought to serve on a library committee, which is a necessity if the libraryis to be registered as a community based or non-governmental organization. We have identified36 such individuals as founders of UgCLA libraries, 20 of whom have family support. Thus,over 50% of those who come to UgCLA’s meetings are people with strong roots in the villageswhere their libraries are located. Another, sometimes overlapping, pattern is for a community library to be part of a largerinstitutional framework, a farmers’ group, a coalition of such groups, an adult literacy program,or a church. No fewer than 46 of UgCLA’s 67 members fall into this category. They includetwo—Uganda Rural Literacy and Community Development Association in the Northwest and Page 11 of 24
  12. 12. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?the Ruwenzori Information Centre Network in the West— which, being umbrella groupsthemselves, have each sponsored eight or nine of their members to join UgCLA as well; this factaccounts for the cluster of members that UgCLA has in each of these regions. Twenty-twomember libraries also have a strong affiliation with a particular school: six of them began asschool projects to which libraries were added, and a further nine are located in schoolclassrooms. The chronology can also be reversed, as when the Director of one library (Caezaria)decided to found a school whose students could use it, or when another library (Kitengesa)served as a base for establishing other development projects. Whichever way it goes, the stronglink between libraries and economic and social concerns at the village level represents just such abreak from the old, colonial, model as the librarians cited above call for. In a few cases, eleven to be precise, libraries have been founded by foreign individuals orgroups. In one case, the project seems to have been a complete failure: the foreigner in questionimported a container full of books, set it up as a library in a school that was also an orphanage,and then left it. As far as we know, the library is no longer active. In another case, where aforeign donor had set up a beautiful library, it took a good number of years for the librarian toconvince local people that coming to read was not something for which they should be paid; itshould be said, though, that this librarian has become one of the most active members of UgCLAand the library is now flourishing. Another foreign group that established a library—Under theReading Tree, registered in Vancouver, Canada—took care to consult with local people beforedoing so and has worked closely with both the National Library and UgCLA. That library is alsodoing well. Setting up a library is one thing; maintaining it is another. Here is the movement’sweakest point, because although local individuals and groups can muster the resources to set up a Page 12 of 24
  13. 13. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?building or buy an initial collection of books, they are seldom able to pay a librarian’s salary,build up their stock, or subscribe to newspapers on a regular basis. The most successful librarieshave met these costs through foreign support, with thirteen of them receiving salaries forlibrarians and a further 34 receiving foreign book donations. In such cases, there is always thedanger that those who pay the piper will call the tune. An example is the detailed reporting andaccounting on which Under the Reading Tree (which supports four UgCLA libraries) insists; thelibrary managers involved find the work quite burdensome and have difficulty seeing why it isnecessary. Thus the organization is imposing its own, western, standards and patterns of behavioron these people. On the other hand, UTRT’s own status as an NGO—and hence its ability toraise the funds with which to support the libraries—depends on the managers’ conforming. Withone exception, the latter have accepted that argument, and UgCLA’s coordinator has spent agood deal of time helping them learn how to produce the reports efficiently. Do we call this anexercise in hegemony or in capacity building? Such issues can be avoided if libraries can become self-sufficient, and twenty UgCLAlibraries are attempting to do so by developing income-generating activities. These generallyinvolve the use of electricity and electronic equipment: charging telephones, photocopying,teaching computer skills, offering internet access. The equipment is expensive, though,especially where, as in most rural areas, solar power is necessary, and foreign funds are usuallyneeded to buy it. Then, when the investment has been made, the income generated is rarelyenough to cover all the library’s expenses. Nonetheless, one UgCLA member (Village Connect,Kijura) is already independent after only one year of operation, supporting itself throughproviding computer training and internet access. Another, the Kitengesa Community Library, isheading in that direction by investing donor funds in a hall that can be rented out for public Page 13 of 24
  14. 14. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?events such as weddings. Several others provide telephone charging services which in at leastone case pay for the librarian’s salary and in another provide refreshments when the libraryorganizes a Children’s Day. The RIC-Net information centers have photocopiers and computersfrom which they are able to generate their running costs. The initiators and managers ofUgCLA’s member libraries are deeply interested in such development: they have no wish to bedependent on foreign funding, though they are willing to accept it and the demands of thefunders as a necessary step in getting their libraries going. While foreign organizations play some part in initiating libraries and a greater part infunding them, they have no role as library users, and it may be said that the users are the mostimportant agents in a library’s operation, since without them it has no purpose. The publiclibraries discussed in the first part of this paper have been faulted for serving only an urban elite,precisely that population that Phillipson describes as involved in linguistic imperialism by virtueof its strong links (including linguistic ones) with the center countries (1992, p. 52). Most of thecommunity libraries described here, though, are located in rural areas where there are few of theeducated elite for them to serve. Many, it is true, serve secondary school students who aspire toelite membership, but, surprisingly, the twenty libraries that are known to have such students aspatrons are less than a third of the total. The majority—44—focus on primary school children,while 34 serve adults. These adults undoubtedly include the relatively highly educated such asteachers and extension workers, but many of them are people with little or no formal education,who are attracted to the libraries through adult education and other outreach programs. This isparticularly true of the URLCODA, RIC-Net, and Mpolyabigere networks, all of which are basedon the premise that information for adults is fundamental to rural development. Page 14 of 24
  15. 15. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism? Thus, the agents in Uganda’s community libraries movement are mostly indigenousUgandans. Foreign individuals and organizations are involved in an important facilitating role,but the main impetus does not come from them. As for the Ugandan initiators, several of them,being highly educated and working in Kampala, can be said to belong to the urban elite, but theyare people who have not lost touch with their rural roots, which is precisely why they areinvolved with libraries. To argue that such people are promoting linguistic imperialism would dothem a serious injustice.MaterialsThe first point to be made about materials is that many community libraries have very few at all.Only eighteen are known to have collections of more than 1000 items, and ten have virtually nobooks, although some of these have other print materials such as pamphlets and posters; thenumber of those with hardly any books was larger a year ago before UgCLA itself distributed apacket of 80-odd children’s books to ten of its members. When a library has many books, and even when it may have only a few hundred, themajority of them tend to be donated from abroad, the publishers’ remainders and children’s cast-offs described above. The domination of a collection by books of this kind can constitute aserious problem, since it suggests strongly that reading is foreign cultural practice which must, ofcourse, be conducted in English. In all too many cases, library patrons do not find such materialinteresting, and so they dismiss the library as irrelevant. These effects can, however, bemitigated. The Uganda Christian University Children’s Library depends almost entirely on booksdonated from the United States, but it has done a particularly good job of educating its donors,asking them to give ―children’s Bibles or books with Christian themes such as children’s prayers; Page 15 of 24
  16. 16. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?... books with African children and settings and books with African or African-Americanillustrators; and classics from every culture.‖ (UCU Children’s Library report to donors, 2010);and it has helped UgCLA by providing it with a list of excellent African story books published inthe United States. Book Aid International, on a much larger scale, also attempts to ensure that thebooks it gives out are appropriate (Waruingi, 2009)—and all them are new, for the organizationrealized that the donation of used books was, in effect, insulting (Book Aid International,personal information). Nonetheless, donated books are always in English and often in English too difficult formost rural readers to understand. Those meant for children illustrate lifestyles that are foreign(showing televisions or refrigerators, for example) even if the characters have dark faces; andthose that are school textbooks, while covering appropriate material, do not follow Ugandansyllabi and so are difficult for Uganda students, and their teachers, to see as relevant. Librarymanagers will accept the donations, since they believe that any book is better than none, butgiven a chance to buy books, they will nearly always choose ones that are produced locally.Uganda now has a number of publishing firms, four of which, the Children’s Writers andIllustrators Association, Fountain Publishers, MK Books, and Mango Tree have worked closelywith UgCLA and supported it in various ways. These publishers are a primary source of books,followed by ones that operate in Kenya. Libraries that have budgets buy school textbooks firstand foremost because they perceive these as being most in demand and most important.However, many have substantial collections of story books as well, generally stories aboutAfrican girls and boys, or else traditional African folk tales retold in English. Many of thesebooks seem to European and American readers unduly moralistic or even gruesome, but they arehighly popular according to all accounts, and have been demonstrated to be so in studies carried Page 16 of 24
  17. 17. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?out at the Kitengesa Community Library (Dent & Yannotta, 2005; Parry, 2009b). The giants ofpostcolonial African literature, especially Achebe and Ngũgĩ, are also represented in somecollections, but it has to be said that they do not get read much, presumably because the booksare too demanding and the language too difficult. Another type of material in the libraries can be broadly described as practical—information about immediate local concerns such as agriculture and health. The RIC-Netinformation centers focus particularly on this sort of material, generally in the form of leafletsrather than books. Much of this material is distributed free by the Netherlands NGO, CTA, whilethe Uganda-based organization for health education, Straight Talk, distributes its newspapersfree to all UgCLA member libraries. A few libraries also have books on political and legalinformation; at the Kyabutaika Community Library one of the most popular books in 2005 wasan official report on the police service because all the local policemen came to read it (Journal,18 August 2005). Finally, a few have newspapers, but these are generally old ones donated bythe library’s founders after they have finished with them; the Kitengesa Community Libraryseems to be the only one that can—thanks to the generosity of donors—afford to pay its ownsubscriptions. Among adults there is no doubt that the newspapers are one of the greatestattractions of the library: nearly 1000 of the visits paid in 2005-6 were for reading newspapersbecause, as one of the visitors said, they informed him of ―what is going on in the country‖(Parry, 2009b). This last point suggests an unfortunate irony in the situation of Uganda’s communitylibraries, especially with regard to the question posed in this paper. I have argued so far that thelibraries are, on the whole, indigenous institutions directed towards local interests. Yet theirpoverty dictates that they must look to foreign donors if they are to obtain the material that the Page 17 of 24
  18. 18. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?people they serve seem most to want. Is it then possible to develop libraries that are not in someway representative of the interests of the colonial centers? I believe it is, but only if the localagents are clear about what they want and are firm in presenting their wishes and needs toprospective donors; and donors, for their part, need to listen to their local partners and take carenot to impose their own, externally developed, agendas.Language useEven if these conditions are satisfied, there remains a stubborn issue to consider: the dominancein these libraries of the English language. Nearly all the materials described above are in English,necessarily, since not very much is published even in Luganda, which is the best served in thisregard of all Ugandan languages. The Kitengesa Community Library, for example, despite apolicy of buying everything it can in Luganda, has still only 261 books in the language out of atotal collection of 3800. Thus in trying to promote wide reading, the libraries are pushing thelanguage of the center, and in this sense can be considered to be furthering linguisticimperialism. English is not as entirely dominant, however, as the figures given above suggest. In thecase of Kitengesa, we need to consider that one of the library’s three newspapers is in Luganda,and this seems to be the one most frequently read. More important, perhaps, and certainly morewidespread among the libraries, is the fact there is a constant interchange between the languages.At Kitengesa, when one of the librarians reads a story in English to children, she translates it asshe goes—and some of the children will themselves do this when read a story by someone whodoes not know Luganda. Likewise, since most of the women who participate in the library’sFamily Literacy Project have rather little English, their discussions are all in Luganda. Much of Page 18 of 24
  19. 19. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?their work, moreover, is actually translating children’s books; having agreed on the translations,they paste the Luganda sentences into their copies so that they have bilingual books to take homeand read to their children (Parry, Kirabo, & Nakyato, 2010). Other libraries carry out similarlocal language activities. URLCODA has produced beginning reading books in Lugbara. TheBusolwe library is closely affiliated to the Lunyole Language Association and stocks theAssociation’s books in Lunyole. The Kabubbu Community Library has published a Lugandastory book, which it developed by asking children to tell stories for the librarians to write down.The RIC-Net information centers regularly translate leaflets and newspaper articles into Rutoroor Rukonjo, and some of these translations are then published and made available in the centers.Altogether, at least fifteen libraries are known to engage in some kind of translation work,whether in writing or in speech. More work of this kind is definitely needed. The Uganda government’s policy is to teachliteracy in the mother tongue, but the materials available for doing so are woefully inadequate, aswas shown clearly in the government’s own figures for 2006: over the country as a whole therewere sixteen children to each local language book in the lower classes of primary school and 38in the higher classes (Uganda Government Ministry of Education and Sports, 2006). Librariescan help a great deal not only by stocking local language books but also by encouraging andcarrying out translation themselves. Particularly important is the translation of moresophisticated, adult, material so that the message does not keep being repeated that the locallanguage is only for young children: one of the Kitengesa library’s proudest possessions, forinstance, is a translation of Animal Farm in Luganda. UgCLA is a member of Uganda’s newlyformed Multilingual Education Forum, through which, it is hoped, more such translation can beencouraged. Page 19 of 24
  20. 20. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?ConclusionsTo return to the original question: can these libraries be described as an exercise in linguisticimperialism? In some respects, certainly, they do advance the English imperialist agenda. Theystock predominantly English books and so they expose more Ugandans to the language,especially in the rural areas. Many of their books are from the USA or the UK, and as such theyreflect ways of life and cultural values that are associated with the imperialist centers. Some havefinancial support from those countries and so are obliged to adjust their modes of operation tosatisfy their donors’ demands. Moreover, the literacy practices that they promote—readingaloud to children, for instance—are closely associated those nationalities and social classes thatwere most implicated in political imperialism. In all these ways the libraries are helping to spreadthe English language and English-speaking culture and so they make the task of linguisticimperialist institutions easier. The libraries cannot, however, be described as linguistic imperialist institutionsthemselves. Most of them are the product of local initiatives, and where foreigners have beeninvolved in their foundation, it has always been through negotiation and agreement with localpartners. The people who use them are emphatically not members of the ―comprador‖ elite socondemned by Ngũgĩ; they are children who have no prospect of getting books of their own,students who have no opportunity to attend the better schools, adults who have no access toinformation through newspapers or the internet. Moreover, these people use the libraries entirelyon their own terms. The books may perhaps reflect American culture, but if people are notinterested, they do not read them. The dominant language of the books may be English, but manylibraries are actively translating or producing material in their local languages. When users do Page 20 of 24
  21. 21. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?read English books, often with the explicit purpose of learning English, the ones they choose arelocally purchased and reflect local concerns. The model of linguistic imperialism is clearly notan adequate representation of this situation. The model does, however, offer a valuable tool for investigating the libraries’ work in itsfocus on relations between the center and the periphery. For that is what it is all about—not thatthe center is using libraries to impose information on the periphery, but that the periphery isusing them to access information from the center. Ultimately, we hope, these local institutionswill become so vibrant that they will help the marginalized rural communities that they serve toperceive themselves, in effect, as their own centers, in no way inferior to or less informed thanother communities elsewhere in the country and the world. One student, a regular user of theKitengesa Community Library, suggested that the process had begun already. Speaking ofstudents in the urban schools nearby, he said, ―When we visit the library we are equal to them.We also bring our knowledge to the town‖ (Journal, 13 May 2007). That is the kind ofempowerment that community libraries, in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, should be workingfor.REFERENCESAchebe, C. (1975). Morning yet on creation day: essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press.Alemna, A. A. (1995). Community libraries: An alternative to public libraries in Africa. Library Review, 44(7), 40–44.Barber, C. L. (1997). Early modern English (Revised ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Page 21 of 24
  22. 22. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?Brutt-Griffler, J. (2002). World English: A study of its development. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.Cram, J. (1993). Colonialism and libraries in Third World Africa. Australian Library Journal, 42(1), 13-20.Dent, V. F., & Yannotta, L. (2005). A Rural Community Library in Africa: A Study of its Use and Users. Libri, 55, 39–55.Ekpe, S. I., & Evogor, E. I. (2005). Beginning reading at the grassroots: the experience in some fishing communities in Nigeria. In K. Parry, S. Andema & L. Tumusiime (Eds.), Teaching reading in African schools (pp. 204-213). Kampala: Fountain Publishers.Francia, L. (Ed.). (1993). Brown river, white ocean: An anthology of twentieth-century Philippine literature in English. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Galtung, J. (1980). The true worlds: a transnational perspective. New York: Free Press.Issak, A. (2000). Public libraries in Africa: A report and annotated bibliography. Oxford: International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP).Lauridsen, J. (1997). Biblioteksbegrebef sef fra Afrika [The library concept seen from Africa]. Bibliotekspressen, 18, 526-527.Mazrui, A. A., & Mazrui, A. M. (1998). The power of Babel: Language and governance in the African experience. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.Mostert, B. J. (2001). African Public Library Systems: A Literature Survey. LIBRES, 11(1).Ngugi wa Thiongo. (1986). Decolonising the mind: The politics of language in African literature. London: Heinemann/J. Currey. Page 22 of 24
  23. 23. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?Ogundipe, O. O. (1998). The colonial contribution to librarianship in developing countries: Some negative aspects. Focus on International and Comparative Librarianship, 29(3), 153- 157.Parry, K. (2009a). Languages, literacies, and libraries: a view from Africa. In J. A. Kleifgen & G. C. Bond (Eds.), The Languages of Africa and the Diaspora: Educating for Language Awareness (pp. 76-88). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Parry, K. (2009b). The story of a library: Research and development in an African village. Teachers College Record, 111(9), 2127-2147.Parry, K., Kirabo, E., & Nakyato, G. (2010). Working with Parents to Promote Children’s Literacy: a Family Literacy Project in Uganda. Paper presented at the Conference on Multilingualism and Education: Global Practices, Challenges, and the Way Forward.Pennycook, A. (1994). The cultural politics of English as an international language. London and New York: Longman.Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Rosenberg, D. (1993). Imposing libraries: The establishment of national public library services in Africa, with particular reference to Kenya. Third World Libraries 4(1).Rushdie, S., & West, E. (Eds.). (1997). Mirrorwork: 50 years of Indian writing 1947–1997. New York: Henry Holt.Said, E. W. (1994). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.Schmied, J. J. (1991). English in Africa: An introduction. London: Longman.Searle, C. (1983). A common language. Race and Class, 25(2), 65-74.Sridhar, K. K. (1989). English in Indian bilingualism. New Delhi: Manohar Publications. Page 23 of 24
  24. 24. African Studies Association Kate Parry53rd Annual Meeting, 18-22 November, 2010 Libraries in Uganda: An exercise in linguistic imperialism?Sturges, P., & Neill, R. (1998). The quiet struggle: Information and libraries for the people of Africa (2nd ed.). London: Mansell.Talib, I. S. (2002). The language of postcolonial literatures: An introduction. London: Routledge.Uganda Government Ministry of Education and Sports. (2006). Uganda Educational Statistics Abstract. (Vol. 1). Kampala: Author.Waruingi, G. (2009). Book donations: What are East Africans reading? In K. Parry, S. Andema & L. Tumusiime (Eds.), Reading in Africa, beyond the school. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers. Page 24 of 24