For any town aspiring to be a city, books would be the sweetest ingredient to that cause.
Not for Eldoret.
For its famous athletes, the town prides itself as the city of champions. Being the most developed in the North Rift, it is the region’s centre of activity — political, economic and social — bringing together residents from as far as Turkana, West-Pokot, Baringo and Nandi.
It is also home to dozens of universities, a national polytechnic, technical colleges, a referral hospital, a medical school and other middle-level learning institutions.
Alongside Kitale in Trans Nzoia County, they are the go-to centres for hundreds of farmers seeking services like banking and law. These are the two towns where farmers congregate to savour their maize bonuses every year.
Despite all this, Eldoret does not have a bookshop of repute. It only boasts of a few outlets stocking school revision books and nothing else.
Anyone looking for serious scholarly books, biographies, fictional and non-fictional literature would be utterly disappointed as those are nowhere to be found. The streets are full of chemists, restaurants, pubs and other general stores along Oginga Odinga and Oloo streets and other major roads.
Recently, it was picked for upgrade into a city to join the ranks of Mombasa, Kisumu and Nairobi, but that doesn’t seem to have shaken anyone into setting up a serious bookstore.
Last September, the Cabinet approved amendments to the Urban Areas and Cities Act to allow for two more cities in the country. The two are Nakuru and Eldoret.
Moi University and the University of Eldoret have in-house bookshops that only serve their needs and are mostly inaccessible to outsiders.
Moi University Bookshop manager Lily Nyariki said there was a great demand for books in the town.
She said the university once operated one in the town that served customers from as far as Turkana. “We had all kinds of books. With the great partnership we have with publishers, we got a constant supply of books,” said Ms Nyariki.
The bookshop was, however, closed due to operational challenges.
“We have a medical school, several universities and a good number of middle-level colleges in the town. It is time for a good bookshop in the town,” said Ms Nyariki.
Mr Philip Chebunet, a lecturer at the University of Eldoret, said the lack of a proper book outlet could have been informed by a low demand in the town.
Most of the residents are young people, mostly students, whom, the lecturer said, only read to pass exams.
“Most young people do not read nowadays. They are unnecessarily busy. Most students read to only pass. After that they quit reading,” said Mr Chebunet.
As per the 2009 census, the town was estimated to be home to 250,000 people but that number could have doubled by now, considering that the count was done just two years after the deadly 2007 post-election violence when many were displaced. With the advent of devolution in 2013, the town has rapidly expanded.
Mr Juma Musakali, a lecturer at Moi University, said if one needed a book to read, he or she would have to order from Nairobi.
“There are some outlets that stock textbooks but you will not find bookshops with academic books. If one wants to buy a book, they have to order it from Nairobi.”
It is that interesting. With all these academic institutions around here and for a town like Eldoret it is interesting that you cannot get a book that suits your needs,” he said.