Nairobi and Rabat: A tale of book fairs in two cities

Saturday July 02 2022

A panel discussion at the Rabat Book Fair. PHOTO | POOL


The Nairobi Book Fest, a three-day celebration of “books, words and ideas’’, lived up to its expectations. It was held at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi from June 24 to 26, and included panel discussions, book sales and signing.

One of the main events was a discussion on Nairobi in the Making: Landscapes of Time and Urban Belonging, written by Constance Smith. The session was facilitated by Kimani Njogu.

The discussion was about the city as a "transitional and transactional space". Others in the audience described Nairobi as a "concrete and not digitalised place", and a home to many "city-zens".

At one of the stands, I bought a copy of Morning Shall Come, by Ouma Don Collins. The author describes his work as subtle poetry that promises to "tickle the heart, provoke the mind, and uplift the soul".

Eudia Kamonjoh, the writer of Black Nights, Steamy Coffee, was also at the fair to promote her book. I bought that too.

Mike Mburu, who runs Kwani? Open Mikes every first Tuesday of the month at the Kenya National Theatre was manning a stand. He explained to writer Sahara Abdi that Kwani? did not die with the demise of its founder Binyavanga Wainaina three years ago, but was selling its backlog “mostly as an ongoing orature in true African folklore and the poetic tradition”.


A panel discussion on mystery book writing and publishing was moderated by Simiyu Baraza, who engaged writer Vincent de Paul.

Rabat fair

Earlier in the month, I attended a book festival in Morocco, organised by the Rabat Intra-Continental Book and Trade Fair, on the invite of its president Drizz El Yazami, the author of Migrations Mediterraneennes.

The Rabat fair publishes one book every month, mostly around the theme of migration. The issue is central to Morocco, which is a magnet for illegal immigrants on account of its proximity to Spain.

The festival ran for 11 days and attracted thousands of locals, 120 authors, and academics for book launches and panel discussions from across the continent.

Frederic Ebami, Bellamech Fatimetou, Bencheikh Driss, Rochdi Keltoum, Dieye Mamadou, Tarik Slaiki, Smith Alexandra Jones, Tarabollssi Baha, Kebir Ammi Mustapha, Fall Mar, Elallam Abderrahim and Nguich Marie Noelle are some of the authors who attended the fair.

The session titled "Pan African Cultural Co-operation" was moderated by Moroccan ambassador to Kenya Mokhtar Ghambou, with Oromo writer Munira Hussein and Nigerian academic Toyin Bibitayo Ajao on the panel.

In the discussions, Kenya was seen as the “universal recipient” of cross-country cultures within its artistic tastes and tapestry.

The highlight was the discussion around Youssef Haji’s Fragments of the Living Memory of an Immigrant and Traveler to Norway, which speaks about experiences from North Africa.