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Addressing Africa's book famine: The impact is immeasurable

Ambassador James Kimonyo
Ambassador James Kimonyo

I come from a family of eight in Rwanda. We worked very hard to get an education growing up. We shared books with other households and families. Sometimes we waited a week to get a book back that we had loaned out and sometimes we were lucky to get the book back the day before an examination. And so it goes for millions of schoolchildren in Rwanda and throughout Africa. We have many problems on our continent, but one of the most serious is our book famine.

As Rwanda and other countries make progress over the next 20 years, human capital and education will be the key ingredients. The only way we can transform our country is through education. Our strategy is to create a knowledge-based economy. That is our vision. There is nothing better than having books for our students to help us achieve that objective.


A container of books from St. Paul-based Books for Africa will be shipped to my country in the next couple of months through the work of Peace Corps volunteers and Ambassador W. Stuart Symington. That's 22,000 books for our children. The container will also include books for a law library donated by Thomson Reuters to help us educate young law students, build democratic institutions and develop the rule of law.

I recently visited St. Paul, where I attended a number of events sponsored by Books for Africa. I was impressed with the generosity of the people of Minnesota who donated more than $80,000 last month to help pay for books that will be sent to Rwanda and other African countries. Our people thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

For one purpose only
The West often sends money and military weapons to Africa and other developing nations. While well-intentioned, sometimes that aid ends up in the wrong hands with serious negative consequences. But books for children and for law students can only be used for one purpose and that is that is to educate. That is soft power at work in the field. A small amount of money invested in the United States is turned into thousands of books — which, in turn, are shared by millions of young people in my country and around the continent. That is a small price to pay to help us build and develop our countries.

The impact of a book in the hands of a child in my country is immeasurable. I hope that the people of Minnesota and the rest of the United States will continue to understand that concept. Your understanding and your generosity make a huge difference.

James Kimonyo is the ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States.

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