Time for a library boom across Africa.

Author:Donkor, Audrey

There is a direct, and very logical link between the number of libraries that a country has and its level of development. Given is history, Africa should have been investing heavily in libraries; however, as Audrey Donkor's research has revealed, the number of libraries on the continent is shockingly low. There is an urgent need to change this situation if Africa is to develop to its full potential.

Infrastructure is touted as key to Africa's development. African governments earmark significant portions of their nations' budgets for infrastructure projects. The roads, bridges, railways, and buildings they construct not only improve the quality of life of their citizenry, but also serve as tangible evidence of their achievements while in office.

Libraries are consistently left out of their infrastructure plans. They are a rarity in Africa; the figures from around the continent are telling. Ghana has a mere 68 public libraries and no national library for its population of 29m. A paltry 290 public libraries serve economic powerhouse Nigeria's population, which currently numbers 201m. Over in East Africa, Kenya doesn't fare any better, with 62 public libraries serving its 53m residents.

Just a few African countries defy this worrisome pattern. Egypt, for instance, is relatively impressive with 1,353 public libraries for its 101m strong population.

By contrast, France boasts an astounding 16,300 public libraries for its 67m denizens. 7,042 public libraries serve the 84m residents of Germany. Colombia, with a population of 51m, has 1,702 public libraries in existence. And the 32m residents of Malaysia have access to 1,443 public libraries.

So why have African countries failed to rapidly increase the number of libraries as their economies have grown? Do their governments perceive libraries to be financially unprofitable? Are African leaders concerned that only a small segment of their populations will utilise these libraries and benefit from them? Does the poor reading culture across the continent cause them to doubt that Africans want more libraries?

Whatever the reasons, the need for an astronomical increase in the number of libraries across the continent is greater now than ever before. Our continent cannot develop on a dearth of information and ideas. African youths cannot become visionary leaders, capable of competing globally, if they do not cultivate the habit of actively seeking out knowledge.

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