Africa: The Greatest Public Library in Africa Has No Books By African Fiction Writers

Elephant Eye: Sousa Jamba visits the magnificent Abrehot Library in Addis Ababa

In the great public library of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I have not seen a single work of fiction by an African author.

The library was officially opened in January 2022 by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who initiated the project.

When I visited, the library was full of young people reading as well as some appreciating the architecture of the building, which cost US$21 million.

It is the work of Yosef Bereded, an Ethiopian architect. Yes, only $21 million for a building that is already a landmark on the African continent!

For my guide, a former Ethiopia Airlines air hostess who now specialises in giving tours of the capital, the library was a source of pride.

She told me that the prime minister knew many things and that he had a PhD – “A true PhD, not some honorary doctorate from a tribal university,” my guide said.

For a while I became the photographer in the library as my guide posed in front of various shelves containing British novels.

She told me that she had not read much fiction and that the only book she recalls having read with interest was “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus” by John Gray.

There was complete silence in the gigantic library. Not everyone was reading; some young people had books in front of them but kept scanning the building as if they were deciphering secret messages.

In some corners of the building, young couples, obviously in love, sat in silence marvelling at the library.

My guide told me that the library was a very good thing because idlers who spent much time drinking and watching worthless TV programmes would now start reading books.

She was a little apprehensive, though: too many young men and women would also be spending much time looking at each other in between reading books.

The devil, she said, was always on the lookout for opportunities, especially in libraries and churches.

She hoped that the reading sessions would not lead to sins!

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