On the latest episode of Inside Africa, CNN International meets a group of Kenyan storytellers who provide a link to the past, to each other, and to what’s possible in the future by reminding us of the power, and impact, a good story can have.
CNN meets publisher Angela Wachuka and author Wanjiru Koinange, who founded the organization ‘Book Bunk’ in 2017 and took on the task of restoring three of Nairobi’s libraries. Book Bunk partnered with the Nairobi city county government to help bring the libraries to the 21st century.
The pair started with renovating the two smaller community libraries.” We created new doors. We put in a performance space. We’ve put in bag checks and brand-new furniture… we got rid of the toxic asbestos, and replaced it, and put nooks, reading nooks, where asbestos was before… it’s incredible what a bit of paint and some care will do for public spaces in this country,” Koinange tells CNN.
Inside the McMillian Memorial Library, Nairobi’s oldest library, opened in 1931, the majority of the book collection had been selected by British settlers in the country. “When you look at the collection, it reflects a certain kind of ideology, a very problematic one. And, I think one that is forming the basis for a global conversation about decolonizing knowledge, about kind of going back to very harmful ideas about people from our part of the world,” says Wachuka.
For this reason, Book Bunk’s team catalogued more than one hundred and thirty thousand books and began the sensitive process of selecting which books would stay and which ones would be removed from the library. In addition, Wachuka says: “We’d like to build a special collection that favours writing by and about Africans, the black experience, the diaspora, in its all-encompassing ways.”
Book Bunk is also hosting its own literary festival inside the renovated children’s library aimed at supporting the Kenyan and the African literary industry.
CNN learns that for Koinange, her work with Book Bunk is deeply linked to her life as a writer, as in 2020, the organization’s imprint published her first novel, The Havoc of Choice, which became a best seller in Kenya. “Libraries were for me a way to then ensure that the work that I want to spend my life creating reaches the people that I’m writing for,” states Koinange.
Bunk Book hopes to renovate libraries across Kenya and Africa in the future. Koinange tells CNN: “I think what’s important for us is that people begin to understand that for too long our stories have been written by other people on our behalf, so now let’s begin to do the work to figure out what our story is and how we can share it as much as possible.” In this episode, CNN also meets graffiti artists Tony Eshikumo, known as ‘Daddo,’ and Musasia Wanyande, as well as poets and performers Laura Ekumbo, Aleya Kassam and Anne Moraa.