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New book policy spells doom for publishing companies

By Lee Mwiti | July 11th 2017
By Lee Mwiti | July 11th 2017

The recent policy-change by Education Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i to have one text book per subject in elementary, primary and secondary education, might as well be calling the hangman to finish the job by tightening the noose harder around the neck for both Kenyan publishing and book selling companies.

The reality that publishers and book sellers could soon be closing shop is no longer a notion that is further from imagination.

The Kenyan publishing industry is estimated to be worth Sh12 billion.

According to a 2012 survey, conducted by the Goethe Institute, textbooks alone generated 95 per cent of the Sh3 billion annual revenue that publishing companies accumulate.

But Mr Matiangi has categorically stated that corruption and insidious cartels in his ministry have crippled text-book procurement and only the one book policy could keep them at bay. Parents are the biggest winners as they expect the new rule would drastically cut the book purchase budget.

A recent survey published by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) and the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) found out that the government was losing up to Sh13 billion annually to fraud.

“The total amount of money given to schools annually for the purchase of books is Sh18.5 billion but the actual amount spent stand at Sh5 billion,” the report noted.

Matiangi has stated that some subjects have up to six textbooks by different authors and that collusion between publishers, booksellers and head teachers is evident.

In the last 15 years, since the NARC regime came to power and announced free primary education for all pupils, publishers started to reap big as demand for text books soared and the then government poured billions for their purchase opening the floodgate for corrupt practices.

On top of that, Tanzania was also strengthening its English curriculum and inviting Kenyan publishers to provide English language text books.

Next door, Rwanda was changing its syllabus from French to English after President Kagame decided to abandon the francophone commonwealth in an effort to move closer to the East African community.
Kenyan publishers trooped to Rwanda in dozens to capitalise on the new market.

Retrenched staff

The resulting boom saw local publishers reap huge revenues and invest heavily in manpower as well as opening offices across the region.

But about five years ago, the bubble began to burst. It started with neighbouring Tanzania which stunned the publishers by introducing the one book policy.

The country did not give graft as an excuse for the introduction of the policy, but instead voiced the need to scale down on its spiralling state spending on education.

It went a step further to award government publishers a monopoly in publishing school text books.

Kenyan publishers were summarily locked out of that market. Many closed offices and retrenched staff as they beat a hasty retreat.

In Rwanda, the myriad of books that had found themselves into that country as publishers sought to out-do each other supplying to schools jolted Kagame’s prickly regime to act.

Rwanda decided to indigenise publishing by favouring its local publishers to Kenyan publishers.

Many Kenyan companies there also closed shop suffering huge losses as the offices and publishing equipment they had invested in turned into white elephant projects.

And now, the final stroke was back here at home where publishers sought solace. And the one book policy that chased them out of Tanzania has finally caught up with them.

One former publisher and editor Henry Munene says Matiangi’s move to let a single entity – KICD – enjoy a monopoly in reviewing and recommending the single text book that will be used in the new education system will not fight graft as intended.

“What the ministry is proposing is that we do away with an entire supply chain beginning from the publishers to booksellers to the Kenya Institute of Education (KICD) where teachers interrogate the books before recommending it to schools. We are replacing it with a single entity, to do this elaborate exercise,” argued Munene.

“The so called cartels will now take advantage of the bureaucracy at that government institution and corrupt its officials to have their books recommended. It is like centralising corruption.”

While Munene thinks the one book policy will greatly hurt publishers and force them to close shop, he also asserts that publishers should have seen such a scenario coming from afar and prepared themselves.

“Our publishers did the mistake of over-relying on textbooks and failed to invest in other sources such as creative writing and even e-learning,” reckoned Munene.

“They though the textbook boon is here to stay and they invested in opaque things such as opening big offices in the region and buying expensive publishing equipment.”

Kenya Publishers Association Chairman Lawrence Njagi says there are 110 publishers in Kenya and when the one book policy is finally implemented, many will close shop, leading to loss of almost 500 direct jobs.

Mr Njagi says Matiang’i should not blame graft on the existence of many publishers and several book sellers, and instead turn to weak auditing systems in his ministry, which have failed to fight graft.

“Poor auditing systems are to blame for the graft. We are a market economy and the laws of supply and demand should be let to ensure which publisher churns out the best books to be recommended for schools.”

In Tanzania, they recommended the one book policy which killed private publishers. Now government publishers are producing poor quality books which have left the Tanzanian education system a sham,” Njagi avers.

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