Publishing in Kiswahili has registered tremendous growth in Kenya in the recent past. This growth has been attributed to a number of factors, key among them being education.

Since Independence, Kenya’s education sector has undergone changes aimed at enhancing development through human resource. Past commissions formed by the Ministry of Education -from Ominde Commission of 1964 to Davy Koech of 1999 – gave recommendations that had a direct impact on Kiswahili publishing.

A brief highlight demonstrates how the said commissions shaped Kiswahili publishing in Kenya.

Whereas the Ominde Commission appreciated the role of Kiswahili in Kenya – national language no less, it relegated Kiswahili to a non-examinable subject. This subordination of Kiswahili had other areas of the curricula benefit; teachers of Mathematics and English, who were deemed ‘serious,’ appropriated time that was set aside for Kiswahili lessons. The Commission’s report was silent on books as important learning and teaching materials.
Gachathi Commission of 1976 did not help the situation either. In its recommendations, learning and examining of Kiswahili was pushed to post-primary education. In addition, the subject was elective. Giving Kiswahili such a position in the Kenya Curriculum did not encourage many secondary schools to offer it as a subject.
Owing to the nature of curricula in the 1970s and 1980s, publishing of Kiswahili books wouldn’t make commercial sense due to fewer numbers of students who took the subject. For the few publishers who engaged in it, it was purely for nationalistic purposes.
Things took a different turn after the Mackay Commission of 1981 recommended that Kiswahili be made a compulsory subject in both primary and secondary levels of education. This was implemented in the new 8-4-4 system of education. Owing to the previous curricula, there were no learning and teaching materials. The Ministry of Education mandated the Kenya Institute of Education to prepare learning and teaching materials, a move that infuriated private publishing firms. The firms felt that since KIE was a vetting institution for learning and teaching materials, its involvement in publishing was an act in conflict of interest.
The situation changed in 1998 when the Ministry of Education launched the Kenya National Textbook Policy that liberalised the book industry. KIE was to revert to its rightful role of vetting and approving learning and teaching materials and relinquish publishing roles to publishers.
For example, in January 2008, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology listed over 600 Kiswahili approved books in its Orange Book. Of those, 57% were Kiswahili literary books for both primary and secondary schools. More growth was registered in January 2015 when the Ministry of Education listed over 1 ,100 Kiswahili approved books.
A few years down the line, Kiswahili has recorded a growth of over 90%. Out of all the Kiswahili titles in the Orange Book of January 2015, fifty per cent are literary books for
both primary and secondary schools, an indication that both language and literature facets of Kiswahili publishing are growing at the same pace.
Commendable growth in the variety of Kiswahili books published has been noted.
Learners are spoilt for choice as authors and publishers have invested in books customised for specific study needs.
Chakava (1996: 32), Publishing in Africa: One Man’s Perspective paints the picture of the situation of publishing prior to the Kenya National
Textbook Policy. According to Chakava, only 219 Kiswahili books were published in 1996 compared with 777 books in English published in the same year.
In recent years, Kiswahili publishing has enjoyed encouraging growth in the number of books published.
Indeed, there has been a commendable growth in the variety of Kiswahili books published. Learners are spoilt for choice as authors and publishers have invested in books customised for specific study needs.
It is also commendable that this growth has proportionately brought about the expansion of the book market. The few existing Kiswahili learning and teaching materials for Early Childhood Development Education are relatively new entrants into Kiswahili publishing. ECDE is a huge market and undoubtedly a boost to Kiswahili publishing. This important level of education, however, has been locked out of rigorous Kiswahili teaching and learning language policies despite the fact that since most Kenya children speak Kiswahili at a very tender age, this could be the most suitable language of instruction and learning at ECDE level.
Digital publishing is all the rage and Kiswahili has not been left behind, what with the emergence of Kiswahili e-books. Digital publishing opens a new frontier in Kiswahili publishing. Despite its challenges, it can open the global market for Kiswahili publications.
The history of Kiswahili educational publishing in Kenya indicates that the discipline’s full potential is yet to be exploited. There are indicators that the area will continue registering growth as long as there is favourable support from the Ministry of Education. In light of the highlighted dynamics, the future of Kiswahili publishing can only get brighter.