Your paper of February 13 to 20 carried an article by the Hon. Ibrahim Ssemuju Nganda titled “Promoting Runyakore using people’s taxes” in which he castigated President Museveni for heading a team of authors to write a Runyakore-Rukiga thesaurus “Katondoozi”.
I found this article misleading, either because the author is ill-informed about the subject of book writing and publishing, or he had other hidden motives.
As the publisher of this book, allow me to inform your readers that the greatest investment in any book is writing it. And this is what Museveni’s greatest contribution on this book was, not taxpayers’ money.
The endeavor of writing a book, as it was in this case, requires knowledge, passion, skill and patience. President Museveni and his team of co-authors certainly spent a long time doing research on words and phrases in Runyankore-Rukiga, and had to arrange them logically for ease of reference.
It is this painstaking effort that produced this book. These same authors have previously written other books including a dictionary. All this work requires more of knowledge than money.
Nganda creates a wrong impression that Museveni writing a book in his mother tongue disadvantages other languages, saying “My Luganda has for a long time been examined in schools and universities but it is without a thesaurus”.
The honourable MP doesn’t seem to know that Luganda is the most published language by Fountain Publishers, boasting of over 60 titles on the current list of school books, six of which are dictionaries, targeting different levels of learning.
Many more books have been published for general reading. Runyankore-Rukiga is the second with 55 titles with four dictionaries, including Katondoozi. Acholi is a close third with 39 titles, three of them dictionaries. All the other major languages follow with varying, but growing lists of books.
Nganda should, therefore, know that Luganda is in no way disadvantaged in book supplies, and not least because of Museveni writing a book in Runyankore-Rukiga.
The MP’s advice that “what a responsible head of state should be doing is sponsoring the writing of a thesaurus for each of the indigenous languages…..” is also mistimed.
What Nganda didn’t know is that Museveni did this over 10 years ago, when his government in 2008, adopted a policy of instructing school children from primary one to three in their mother tongues throughout the country, and teaching those same languages in the upper classes.
This policy opened opportunities for books to be written and published in all Ugandan languages. As a result, demand for books in all these languages has driven enthusiasts, scholars, teachers, bishops, judges, doctors and others to write books in their mother tongues. Many of these didn’t want to see their language heritage eroded by time. President Museveni happens to be one of those.
As the old adage goes, “When an African elder dies, a library burns down”. To avoid this rich treasure of knowledge ending with him, Museveni, like many other patriotic Ugandans, chose to write books so that this knowledge is shared with future generations. Busy as he is, for Museveni to have found time to write this book, calls for him to be saluted instead of being castigated.
Lastly, Nganda’s argument which has strands of sectarianism woven into it doesn’t seem to fit well into the current liberal socio-political environment in Uganda, where knowledge sharing is seen more as a facilitator of development rather than a hindrance.
Sowing seeds of ethnic discord on the basis of a book published in one particular language, does not rhyme with the current times in which marriages across language borders are becoming a trend. Children born out of such marriages may wish to learn the languages of both parents, and having books in both may be the right tools to achieve this.
Similarly, Ugandans now study and work in all areas of the country where languages other than their own, are spoken. Shouldn’t we, therefore, always rub our hands with glee whenever a new book is published, even when it is not in our own language?
James Tumusiime is the founder of Fountain Publishers.