Inside Africa

Nairobi’s new chapter: These women are restoring and reclaiming Kenya’s dilapidated, colonial-era libraries

CNN  — 

Libraries in Nairobi, Kenya, are getting a makeover thanks to two women who are hoping to turn the page on the past – creating a new future both for the books inside the libraries and the communities around them.

Book Bunk, founded in 2017 by publisher Angela Wachuka and author Wanjiru Koinange, is a non-profit organization working to restore libraries across the city by updating everything from the physical infrastructure to the book collections. The team has also helped transform the libraries into spaces for events that encourage thought and celebrate writing, including hosting the Nairobi Literature Festival.

“We’ve really asked a lot of questions about what libraries are, what they can be, and what’s stopping them from getting to the point where they can fully serve communities,” said Koinange.

Courtesy Paul Kariuki Munene

The main hall of the Eastlands Library before and after renovation.

The formerly dilapidated buildings are haunted by the ghosts of a not-so-distant past. Kenya, which had been under British rule since 1895, was named an official colony in 1920 and remained that way for more than 40 years.

McMillan Memorial Library is the city’s oldest library, and Book Bunk’s latest project. Built in 1931, only White European colonizers were allowed to enter the space for the next three decades,

Even the name of the library recalls its history. It was commissioned by Lady Lucie McMillan and dedicated as a memorial to her husband, British American settler Sir William Northrup McMillan. Past the lions guarding the front entrance (placed there in reference to McMillan’s fascination with lions), the books within the library also serve as striking