Kenyan Book Company Brings Online Sales to East Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


The Internet has revolutionized retail sales in many developed countries – and nowhere more so than for booksellers. The ability to offer an almost unlimited supply of books through a website is revolutionizing the way people shop and giving life to books long out of print or by unknown authors.

Kenya has recently gained a reputation for doing things differently in Africa and making great strides when it comes to using information technologies. And the next development in this story is the launch of a Kenyan online book shop modelled on the successful U.S. online bookseller Amazon (

A book boom is well underway across the global South. Literary festivals continue to expand, from Colombia in South America to India to Nigeria in West Africa, and so do sales of books, newspapers and magazines. While the publishing industries in developed countries despair at the impact of digital media on their profits, in the global South, rising prosperity and literacy are fuelling greater interest in reading and a growing print publishing industry. For example, India is experiencing 15-per-cent-a-year growth for its publishing industry, which is valued at nearly US $2 billion (Frankfurt Book Fair).

Kenya’s Text Book Centre (TCB) (, considered one of the country’s most reputable booksellers, has launched its own online book selling portal and its “eBook web store”. It is targeting readers across East Africa and sells books in 14 categories. Being Kenyan, it is taking an innovative approach that recognizes the large numbers of people who are doing all their transactions over mobile phones. The book portal allows customers to make purchases with their mobile phones using mobile money. This system uses the Kopo Kopo ( software platform, which allows small and medium sized businesses to accept mobile phone payments.

Kopo Kopo was first developed in Sierra Leone in 2011, before being further prototyped in Kenya. Kopo Kopo wanted to develop an effective mobile platform to help small and medium sized businesses to better interact with their customers. The Kopo Kopo service was officially launched in February 2012 and is partnered with Safaricom, using its M-PESA Buy Goods service. It is being currently used by hundreds of businesses, from “salons to restaurants to office supply stores”, according to Kopo Kopo’s website.

As an added benefit, the Kenyan online book platform is joined by a new marketplace for thousands of African ebooks. This part of the service is called eKitabu (

EKitabu will be a big boost to the continent’s authors and also open up new opportunities for budding authors who previously would have struggled to get published and distribute their work. If the ebook web store follows the dynamic of online booksellers in more developed markets, then this ability to gain exposure for author’s work and find an audience could also attract bigger publishers and spark interest in international book deals for formerly obscure writers.

The Text Book Centre was founded in 1964 by two Indian business partners in Kenya, Mr. SV Shah and Mr. MJ Rughani, and is now considered the leading bookstore in Kenya, specializing in leisure and educational books, according to its website.

Headquartered in Nairobi’s central business district, it focuses on providing books for the educational sector and strives to be “East Africa’s leading leisure and educational bookstore and office support resource centre”. It also supplies to customers in Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Malawi, Zanzibar and Tanzania.


1) Tara Books: Based in Chennai, India, the book publisher is a co-operative and has published 200,000 hand-made books since its founding in 1994. Website:

2) Pathlight: A Beijing, China-based literary magazine with new writing and poetry. Website:

3) “Indian readers keep publishing industry on growth track”. Website:

4) African Publishers Network (APNET): APNET’s vision is the transformation of African peoples through books. APNET’s mission is to strengthen African publishing through networking, training, trade promotion, Intellectual Property (IP) and advocacy, in partnership with other stakeholders, to fully meet Africa’s need for quality, relevant books. Website:

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31 July 2013

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Riverwood: Kenyan Super-fast, Super-cheap Filmmaking

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


The African film-making success story of Nigeria’s Nollywood has been joined by another fast-rising star: Kenya’s Riverwood. Both are beneficiaries of the digital revolution in filmmaking over the last decade, and both are using low-cost digital filmmaking and editing to tell local stories — in the process making money and creating thousands of jobs.

The power of creative industries to create jobs and wealth has been a focus of UNESCO, through its Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity. UNESCO has been in the forefront in helping African countries re-shape their policies to take cultural industries into consideration. The promotion of cultural industries also has been incorporated into the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

What is particularly attractive about this phenomenon for the poor in the South is its rough-and-ready approach to filmmaking: combining low-cost digital cameras and film editing software on personal computers, with small budgets and fast turn-around times. Films are made on location using local people. These factors make getting into filmmaking accessible and within reach of more people.

Riverwood is named after River Road, a bustling creative and business hub in Nairobi. Riverwood operates at a furious pace, with 20 to 30 films made every week. It adds up to 1,000 films a year selling 500,000 copies at 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.60) a piece: 1 billion shillings (US $13 million) in the past two years.

The whole industry is totally self-sufficient, and is following the well-trodden path laid down by Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.

One of Kenya’s woman directors is leading the renaissance in filmmaking. “Movies are very important because I think they are the most important art in Kenya – in Africa,” said Wanjiru Kinyanjui in the film, “Riverwood, the Blooming of a Film Industry,” by the World Intellectual Property Organization ( “Basically, because Africans have an oral tradition, and a visual one, there is a huge market for local films.”

Riverwood films share a common characteristic of on-the-spot sets and a resourceful and cheap approach.

“They are shot in two, three days and edited in a week,” she continued. “They are selling because people can identify with them. The films being in Riverwood are basically the lives of people, reflecting the Kenyan way of life and entertaining Kenyans. “

And it is a new form of employment for many people:  “When I am making a movie, I need people: you employ very many people. And you also employ yourself. It is a real way of getting rid of poverty. Because all this talent, which is untapped, could be working.”

And as Riverwood rising star director John E. Maina puts it: “Hollywood is the model for any society that wants to develop.”

While still in its infancy compared to Nigeria’s Nollywood, Riverwood is already pioneering ways to protect the creative rights of filmmakers and build a financially-sustainable industry. Inspired by Hollywood’s ownership of creative material, Kenyan filmmakers have come up with some ingenious solutions. Each production company has a rubber stamp and signs on the sleeve of the DVD (digital video disc) – even if it is 1,000 copies.

If a director finds a pirated copy, and even if pirates have forged the rubber stamp, the signature will look like a forgery.

“It is based on a business model,” said director John E. Maina. ”It is commercial. So it is self-sustaining. This is how Bollywood is growing, this is how Nollywood is growing, this is how Hollywood developed.”

As pioneers in copyright protection, Riverwood directors strongly believe they are an important part of the country’s development.

“When you pirate a product, and the resources are not channelled back to the person who created that product, he is losing out on creating a new product for you tomorrow,” said Maina. “So you are the loser: tomorrow you will not have another product.

“Riverwood, Nollywood, Hollywood, are the model for any society that wants to develop. No society will develop without an audiovisual industry. And I think the way to protect an audiovisual industry is through strong copyright laws,” he said.

“If you go to most of the cafes and the pubs in Kenya, people only turn to TV at 7 o’clock, watch the news, after the news is over, they tell the management to put for them the local DVDs from Riverwood. Because they see themselves, they identify with those images. They don’t identify with the foreign American films, the soaps from South America.<

“The audiovisual industry is a mirror. If you don’t have a mirror to see yourself, you don’t know who you are. If you don’t have that mirror to see yourself, you are lost.”

Published: November 2008


  • The global charity Camfed (dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa through the education of girls and empowerment of women) has projects to teach women filmmaking skills. Website:
  • Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Television de Ouagadoogou 2009: Africa’s biggest film festival. Website:
  • Naijarules: Billing itself as the “largest online community of lovers and critics of Nollywood”, an excellent way to connect with all the players in the business.Website:
  • A film by the World Intellectual Property Organization about the Riverwood phenomenon and an introduction to its up-and-coming directors. Website:

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Kenyan Eco-Village Being Built by Slum-Dwellers

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth.

More than 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). This number will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries. Already in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums, and the figure leaps to 78 per cent in the least-developed countries. The UN estimates it will take US $18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the residents themselves.

Kaputei is a project of Kenya’s largest and oldest micro-finance lender, Jamii Bora ( Having enjoyed significant success in making loans to over 225,000 people – after starting out in 1999 with loans to just 50 beggars – it realized something on a larger scale was necessary to permanently transform the lives of poor Kenyans.

Jamii Bora’s founder, Ingrid Munro, saw the whole atmosphere of the slums as the biggest impediment to long-term life changes. “As long as you are living in the slums, you will never climb out of poverty,” she told The Independent newspaper. “Families of course need economic opportunities to rise out of poverty, but what good are they if you are still living in hell?”

Jamii Bora came up with the idea of building an entire community from scratch, and doing it in way that was affordable, ecological and sustainable, while building the wealth of the residents. Since 2007, the project has provided homes for 50 families; the target is to have homes for 2,000.

One former beggar who has built her own home is Clarice Adhiambo. An early client of Jamii Bora, she started to learn how to save, reaching her first goal of saving 1,000 Kenyan shillings (US $12.81). With Jamii Bora’s encouragement, she plowed this money back into buying some fish and selling it in the markets. Over time, she was able to grow her efforts until she was a regular market trader, and was borrowing as much as US $1,900 to fund various slum businesses.

Then came the Kaputei project. It has helped Adhiambo move from a 3 meter by 3 meter tin shack in the Nairobi slum of Soweto to her own home with running water: “So much water,” she told The Independent.

The new home is 50 square metres with two bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom.

Adhiambo pays US $36 a month for her mortgage — more than most people, because she wants to pay it off quickly. That compares to about US $20 a month in rent paid by many slum dwellers to live in squalor with poor services and quality of life.

Kaputei is a clever community project. Unlike attempts to build housing for the poor in isolation, Kaputei is based on neighbourhoods of 250 families each, with common community centres, playgrounds, parks and church halls. There is a town centre, and zones for commercial and industrial enterprises. The project was approved by the Kenyan government in 2004 and has planning permission for 119 hectares. Trees are being planted to provide protection from wind, add beauty, and, in time, to be a source of income or firewood. A wetland is being used to recycle waste water and is being run in partnership with Kenyan universities.

Each house costs US $1,875 to build. The homes are so cheap because the building materials are assembled in a factory on site, and the families help with the building.

Three house models are available and the families – from the Kamba, Kikuyu, Luo and Maasai peoples – choose the one they like by viewing show homes on site. Each home has access to roads, water and sewage.

It’s estimated the entire community of 2,000 families will cost US $3,750,000 for the homes, and another US $3,750,000 for infrastructure. Mortgages are offered at between 8.5 percent and 10 percent interest and are estimated to take 10 to 15 years to repay. The average mortgage is about US $32 a month.


Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website:

World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor.

CIDEM and Ecosur specialize in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website:

The Building and Social Housing Foundation: An independent research organization promoting sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website:

Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom. Website:

Published: June 2009

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“Pocket-Friendly” Solution to Help Farmers Go Organic

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013


Interest in organic food and farming is high, and organics have become a growing global industry. The worldwide market for organic food grew by more than 25 per cent between 2008 and 2011, to US $63 billion, according to pro-organic group the Soil Association. That is an impressive accomplishment given the backdrop of the global economic crisis, and evidence that people value quality food, even in tough times.

One Kenyan company is hoping to help farmers benefit from this global surge in interest in organic food. The company is selling a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers and is hoping it will soon be able to source its products in Kenya, too.

BioDeposit ( sells soil conditioner and natural fertilizer made from two ingredients: peat found in marshlands and silt dredged up from lakes, which is called sapropel ( This naturally occurring resource is rich in all the elements required for abundant crops and has the added benefit of not poisoning the soil and water table when used on farmer’s fields.

It is sold as a solution to the multiple pressures hitting farmers, from chaotic weather patterns to soil damage and decreasing yields. It offers a way to boost farm productivity without damaging the soil in the long term.

In 2011 the amount of farmland that was organic reached 37.2 million hectares in 162 countries – but this is still just 0.86 per cent of the world’s agricultural land (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). If BioDeposit has its way, Kenyan farmers could help to grow the number of hectares being farmed organically.

Presenting the solution in October 2013 at the Global South-South Development Expo ( at the headquarters of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, BioDeposit communications and media chief Nelly Makokha (, explained that the company is hoping to bring the technology behind BioDeposit to Kenya, if they can get permission.

At present, the source materials for the products are dredged from lakes in Latvia in Eastern Europe. Because of the political structures of Kenya, it means a long political process is ahead to gain permission to dredge any of the country’s lakes. BioDeposit’s Latvian scientists conducted research on the potential for Lake Naivasha ( in the Rift Valley and claim it has enough deposits to provide Kenya’s farmers with organic fertilizer for the next 200 years.

“If the government agrees, the fertilizer is basically cheaper than any other fertilizer the farmer [will] have ever used in a long time,” said Makokha. “It will be pocket-friendly for them. As they earn more money from the more yields, they are spending less on the fertilizer.

“Our slogan is ‘smart agriculture for health and wealth’  – health in terms of you become organically grown, and if you are looking for organic certification, we will organize that for the certifiers. Right now most countries are looking for organic food and cannot find it.

“So when you become organic that means you earn more money on your products so it means you are healthy and you are wealthy!”

The fertilizer comes in 12 milliliter packets that cost 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.30). A farmer would need two packets for each quarter acre of farmland.

Based on a Russian discovery from the early 20th century, BioDeposit draws on naturally occurring resources.

Its products include BioDeposit Agro, described as a “biologically active soil conditioner,” and BioDeposit Elixir, described as a “humic plant growth stimulator.” The Elixir is a “sustainable, water-soluble” concentrate made from peat and can be used to soak seeds prior to planting, increasing the germination cycle. For the farmer, it means more seedlings in a shorter time. It also can be poured on compost piles to boost humic content to speed compost decay. Peat is formed from above-ground marsh plants, either on the surface or under a layer of water.

BioDeposit Agro is made from sapropel from the sediment at the bottom of freshwater lakes. It is a renewable, naturally-occurring resource as it has been formed from the accumulated settling of plants such as reeds, algae, trees, grasses and animals over time as they decay.

Unlike other chemical fertilizers, using the BioDeposit product does not require special protective clothing and does not harm human health. Children are also not at risk if they accidentally ingest the product.

“Most farmers have small farms – quarter acre, half acre, at most three acres,” said Makokha. “For a quarter acre you spend five dollars and you get more yields. Two of them would be approximately five dollars – that’s enough for a whole season – so it is pocket friendly.”

And if the company is able to harvest the material in Kenya, it would be even cheaper.

“You can imagine if we dredge here – probably (get the cost down to) a dollar – so it makes more sense for the farmers.”

The dredging has another positive impact: it helps with managing flooding by making the lake deeper once the silt is dredged out, making life better and safer for people living nearby.

BioDeposit has been operating in Kenya for a year and, Makokha said, “the response is awesome.”

BioDeposit organizes workshops for farmers through cooperative societies, helping to guide farmers through the whole process of becoming organically certified.

The company believes its products will help avert problems such as what happened recently when the European Union prevented some flowers – a major source of overseas income for Kenyan farmers – from entering the EU because of banned pesticides.

Cleverly, BioDeposit does most of its business digitally through mobile phones. It conducts its business with sales representatives by phone and conducts training by phone as well. All payments and bank transfers are done by phone using the M-PESA system (

“It is the easiest way to do business in Kenya,” said Makokha. “Everybody right now owns a mobile phone. When we get the M-PESA, we transfer directly to the account. You get the money and transfer to the bank account and you are done, very easy for everybody … doing wonders for us.”


1) Soil health crisis threatens Africa’s food supply. Website:

2) 2050: Africa’s Food Challenge: Prospects good, resources abundant, policy must improve: A discussion paper from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Website:

3) State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Website:

5) Integrating Ethno-Ecological and Scientific Knowledge of Termites for Sustainable Termite Management and Human Welfare in Africa by Gudeta W. Sileshi et al, Ecology and Society, Volume 14, Number 1. Website:

6) Soil Association: The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. Website:

7) Research Institute of Organic Agriculture: FiBL is an independent, non-profit, research institute with the aim of advancing cutting-edge science in the field of organic agriculture.  Website:

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements: Since 1972, IFOAM has occupied an unchallenged position as the only international umbrella organization of the organic world, i.e. all stakeholders contributing to the organic vision. Website:

9) BioDeposit on Facebook. Website:


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