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Kigali Public Library (Rwanda’s First Public Library)

Project Overview

Designing, building, equipping, staffing, maintaining and sustaining Rwanda’s first-ever public library.

Identifying the Problem

Immediately before and during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Hutu hardliners monopolized and manipulated print and broadcast media in Rwanda. Not only did these media outlets spew virulent anti-Tutsi propaganda that incited the genocide, but they also distributed specific instructions that directly helped execute these atrocities. Such censorship and propaganda directly contributed to the genocidal violence. Even after the genocide, the lack of open access to information persisted in Rwanda. No public library had ever existed in the country.

Creating A Solution

Zachary was aware of how the lack of access to accurate information tragically contributed to instigating and executing the 1994 genocide. When he learned that the Rotary Club of Kigali-Virunga (RCKV) had initiated a campaign to construct Rwanda’s first-ever public library, he felt compelled to act. He founded the American Friends of the Kigali Public Library (AFKPL), which joined forces with Marshall Scholars for the Kigali Public Library (MSKPL), which Zachary also founded (along with other members of his class of Marshall Scholars). 

The AFKPL and MSKPL partnered with the RCKV to fundraise, collect books and increase public awareness about the project in the United States, various European countries and Rwanda. Zachary and his colleagues worked together to design, build, equip, staff, maintain and sustain this public library in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Following a decade-long fundraising campaign, Zachary and his colleagues opened the Kigali Public Library in April 2012 and inaugurated the institution that October. 

The Kigali Public Library is a three-story building that holds tens of thousands of books and electronic materials. In addition to providing access to a treasure trove of resources previously unavailable in Rwanda, the library is forming partnerships with other libraries around the country and across the region to share resources and strategies. The Kigali Public Library is now the cornerstone of the Rwandan government’s Rwanda Library Services campaign to build other public libraries and to promote literacy and literature throughout the country.  The construction of the library sends a strong message to the Rwandan people and to the world that Rwanda is committed to opening a new chapter in its history—one marked by peace and progress.

More detailed information about how Zachary and his colleagues designed and implemented the distinct phases of this project can be found in “Social Entrepreneurship in a Post-Genocide State: Building Rwanda’s First Public Library, the Kigali Public Library,” one of the chapters from Zachary’s book, Social Entrepreneurship in the Age of Atrocities: Changing Our World.

Lessons Learned

While potential donors expressed a genuine interest in the advancement of literacy in Rwanda, some worried that building a public library was not as important as providing better access to healthcare or improving citizens’ access to justice. Zachary found that it was necessary to present the project as a crucial part of the effort to improve the country’s social infrastructure, and to emphasize how equal access to free information is an integral part of achieving other important goals.

Zachary also emphasizes the importance of engaging and empowering the local population in projects like this. He and his colleagues made sure that the effort to build and maintain Rwanda’s first-ever public library was a collaborative one, involving Hutus and Tutsis. This strategy ensured that the larger objective of the project – using literacy and access to literature as a way of promoting peace and reconciliation and discouraging violence – was incorporated into the project’s initial phases of development. 

Get Involved!

Now that the Kigali Public Library is open and operational, Zachary and his colleagues are focusing on programmatic activities and partnerships. He encourages anyone interested in forming partnerships or sharing other ideas to contact him, and donations to the Kigali Public Library can be contributed via check made out to “American Friends of the Kigali Public Library” and sent to Zachary (contact him for the address).

Funding

Due to the magnitude of this project, Zachary and his colleagues sought funding from a multitude of sources, which took a great deal of time, patience and networking. The fundraising campaign helped cover the building costs as well as the cost of hiring and training local library staff. In addition to fundraising, Zachary and his partners solicited in-kind donations of books and computers for the library. 

Awards & Recognition

The Kigali Public Library was recognized as an extraordinary Senior Fellow project at the First Annual Humanity in Action International Conference, held in Amsterdam.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Denmark Denmark 1999

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