Kenya’s President unveils an ultra-modern National Library in the heart of Nairobi

The reception desk at the rebuilt Kenya National Library, adorned with relief sculptures of drums, accentuating the main theme of the Library building and the importance of drums in African culture.  ©UNESCO/Judith Ogana

His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of the Republic of Kenya officially opened the state-of-the-art Maktaba Kuu (meaning “Main Library” in Kiswahili) in the heart of Nairobi’s Community Area on 13 November 2020 in Kenya. Maktaba Kuu holds the headquarters of the Kenya National Library Services, managed under the auspices of the Ministry of Sports Culture and Heritage.

Maktaba Kuu is the first multi-purpose library in Kenya, which aims to open new avenues for Kenyans to learn, obtain information, expand their intellectual horizons and promote a reading culture. The library has been designed as an ever-broadening platform, where Kenyans can build on existing knowledge to address current societal challenges.

Special features of the library include a 300 capacity children’s theatre, a 50-capacity senior citizen section and four auditoriums with a combined capacity of 1,200 people, tailored to provide spaces for local authors and artists to showcase their work. The new building also has a section for persons with disability where books and other materials are available in different formats including Braille, audiobooks and large print formats. Sanaa Centre, a 500-seater gallery is also available for local artists to showcase their creativity.

Speaking during the official opening event attended by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, UNESCO representatives, government dignitaries and key stakeholders, the President also revealed that his government, through the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage in collaboration with the Sports, Arts and Social Development Fund, will implement a virtual library with a capacity of 15 million publications. The president said:

“Citizens need transformative and empowering information to enrich their lives and those of their communities. The government is implementing a Ksh. 250 million virtual library to ensure Kenyans have access to quality, timely and relevant information held by the Kenya National Library from the comfort of their homes.”

Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta congratulated the Kenya government for this important milestone. She said: “UNESCO strives to foster freedom of expression, access to information and knowledge in line with our mandate to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image.” The Maktaba Kuu initiative clearly demonstrates the governments aspiration towards giving citizens equal access to information.”

UNESCO recognizes the importance of promoting multilingualism and equitable access to information and knowledge especially in the public domain, and encourages measures to promote access to knowledge in cyberspace in line with the Recommendation on the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace. Through this recommendation, which proposes measures fostering universal access to digital resources and services, it encourages Member States to support equitable and affordable access to information and to promote the development of a multicultural information society.