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Books for peace: How the Amani Festival promotes peacebuilding through reading and writingPublished on 18 February 2020

The Amani Festival is loud, colourful and exuberant - everyone laughs, celebrates, sings and dances. Everyone? In one of the tents in the associative space, it looks different. Although the tent is packed, hardly a word is spoken. People sit on their chairs, and read - seemingly undisturbed by the loud hustle and bustle around them.

“Books for Congo” is one of the many projects that presents itself in the associative space of the festival. Like the project “Kusoma”, which has its tent at the other edge of the associative space, it promotes the culture of reading. A representative from “Kusoma” who is sourrounded by boys that prepare a large table with a great number of various books, explains: “The majority are able to read, but they are not used to reading.” Illiteracy is certainly also a problem in North-Kivu – many people abandon school after a short time only, because they have to work in the fields or find an income – but these projects most of all want to engage people to find joy in reading.

“Kusoma”’s focus is on children who play football in the “L’équipe de goal” by inviting them to read in the library next to the “Stade de Volcan” after their trainings. “Books for Congo” address all generations through building up libraries by providing books and furniture and by training librarians. Anyone can read for free in the 16 libraries in Goma, and subscibers can even order books for the libraries’ stock.

The key to knowledge and peace

“Reading is important for everything!”, says Ergy Kabonga from “Books for Congo” and continues: “Manipulation is a big problem here. But if you have an open mind, you cannot be manipulated so easily. Through reading, you develop intellectual and analytical competence. You can understand the situation of your country, the origin of this war. Reading is a means that can help us to better understand the problems and find solutions.” In this sense, librairies are not only a place to read, but a space where people can discuss. The communities around the libraries are invited to organise discussions, meeting or coachings.

Change of perspectives

One of the problems of these project is, however, that most of the books they have are donations from countries like France, the US, or Belgium. Patrick Bassham, a young writer from Goma, states: “In the past, the books we read in schools and universities all came from Europe. The social realities told in these books are totally different from our own.” The projects want to counteract this by collaborating with Congolese local authors. They buy their books for their libraries and bring them to schools; they organise exchanges between students and authors. Patrick Bassham has recently founded the publishing house “Kivu Nyota”, that promotes young writers from Goma to become actors of change through writing. Because not only reading, but also writing is an important tool towards peace.

Travelling Libraries

Both projects are aware that a lot of people, however, have difficulties to access libraries, even though they are interested. This is why they bring the libraries onto the roads. “Kusoma” with the “Caravan des Livres” and “Books for Congo” with the “Biblio-Bus”. They go to city districts or to towns like Rutshuru that have no libraries. “We need to mark our presence within the community, and then orient people to the library”, Ergy Kabonga explains. The communities are informed beforehand and can request particular books to be brought to their place by the travelling libraries.