Ikirezi bookshop reminder of a bygone era of reading

Sunday October 17 2021
Ikirezi bookshop

Ikirezi bookshop in Kigali. PHOTO | MOSES K GAHIGI


Ikirezi bookshop opened in Kigali city centre in 1998, when founder Michael Lijdsman saw there was a need for a place to find books to read.

As the city started gravitating towards another part of Kigali a few years ago — to Kimihurura, Kacyiru and Remera — the bookshop moved to its current location behind the Netherlands embassy in Kimihurura.

The bookshop, which has more than 6,000 books, has grown into its role of being the place to find books of all genres, in English, French and Kinyarwanda.

Mbabazi Felix, who manages Ikirezi, says for many years it was expatriates working in Kigali and tourists who made up to 70 percent of their customers. However, in the past few years the trend has been changing.

He says there is a generation of young Rwandans, especially those who studied or lived abroad, who have increasingly been buying books.

Ikirezi bookshop's strength lies in its offering of an array of books to cater for everyone. Some Rwandan returnees buy books about the genocide and Rwandan history, as many seek to understand their country's tragic and complex past.


More recently, many Rwandans are buying self-help books, with Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich being one of the hits among young readers.

Top sellers

Other top sellers are Atomic Habits by James Clear, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson, The 5 AM Club by Michael Lombardi, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, and Twelve Rules of Life by Jordan Peterson.

By the time I visited the bookshop recently, these books were out of stock.

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi's books like Americana, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun are also popular among young readers.

Books by authors like Tony Morrison, Paulo Coelho, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Chinua Achebe have also been sought after. Foreigners mostly buy books about African history, tourism and politics, mostly written by Africans.

"Many come asking for books written by Rwandans. They seem to be interested in what Rwandans have to say or write." The most books written by a Rwandan author in Ikirezi are by Scholastique Mukasonga, a Rwandan author based in France; all her titles in the bookshop are in French.

Ikirezi also boasts a large assortment of novels, leadership books, biographies, science and business books.

"We work directly with publishers in the UK, USA, France and elsewhere," Mbabazi says.

Rwandans had been known for lacking a reading culture, but exposure to other cultures through school, work and adventure is helping to change this perception.

Mbabazi says the opening of the Kigali library in 2012 has created an appetite for reading among Rwandans, and the ripple effect is felt at Ikirezi.

He says the re-opening of the French cultural centre is expected to further spur the reading culture.

Coffee shop

Coffee and books go well together, and on the same floor where Ikirezi is located lies Inzora coffee shop,.

Mbabazi says the two businesses, owned by different people, enjoy a symbiotic relationship, as some people who come to buy books end up sitting in for a coffee.

Like many other businesses, Ikirezi bookshop was affected by the coronavirus pandemic as books fell down in the order of priorities.

As the pandemic kept tourists and the expatriate community away, Ikirezi sales were affected since they form a big segment of its customers.

Coffee and books go well together, and on the same floor where Ikirezi is located lies Inzora coffee shop. Mbabazi says things are now getting better, and they are waiting for a consignment of books to arrive soon.

The bookshop sells The EastAfrican news paper, which the manager says is one of the most sought after reading material, that the founder himself enjoys reading the paper.