Jomo Kenyatta Foundation
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End of era as Jomo Kenyatta Foundation ends publishing to focus on scholarships function

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Some of the iconic books published by the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation. As part of its transformation, the JKF will discontinue its publishing function and focus on coordinating and centralising various scholarships and bursaries.

Photo credit: | Nation Media Group

Jomo Kenyatta Foundation (JKF), the government-owned company that published some iconic books read by millions of Kenyans, is undergoing a major transformation that will bring to an end a rich legacy of publishing for schools.

The company has since 1966 been associated with popular school titles and has been part of Kenya’s education journey.

Almost all Kenyans who have gone through the national curriculum will easily identify with the cover design of Primary Mathematics, which depicts two school children scaling the ladder of education.

The design has remained unchanged over the years.

Primary Mathematics

Primary Mathematics textbook by JKF.

Photo credit: Pool

The older generation will easily connect with the Safari Course book series which later morphed into the Progressive Peak English Course with titles like Hallo Children, Read with Us and New Friends. The Mr and Mrs Kamau family from which the main characters came is etched in the memory of many.

These were published through a rare collaboration with Oxford University Press and the then Kenya Institute of Education.

Alongside the text books were graded supplementary readers with titles like Kadogo at School and Emma, Jim and the Goat, among others.

JKF has had a unique business model—while it operated as a commercial business, the company does not have other shareholders apart from the government, and all its profits finance scholarships for bright but needy students. It also does not receive any funding from the government, only the seed capital it got at its inception.

JKF was the brainchild of the late Tom Mboya, whose student airlifts programme took hundreds of students to America for tertiary education on scholarships.

Its transformation will see it shelve the publishing function to concentrate on coordination and centralisation of different scholarships and bursaries in basic education in the country. It will maintain a central database capturing all bursaries and scholarships and outlaw provision of the same from multiple sources. This follows a recommendation by the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms.

Apart from the change of mandate, the company will also lose its JKF brand and adopt a new identity as the Kenya Basic Education Bursaries and Scholarships Council. This will leave Kenya Literature Bureau (KLB) as the only wholly government-owned publishing company, before it is privatised.

The composition of the council will include State Department for Basic Education, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), KLB, National Treasury and National Government Constituency Development Fund. Private sector players such as the Kenya Bankers Association and religious groups will also be incorporated.

However, the change has not been well-received by some stakeholders. Authors who have published with JKF told the Nation they are still in the dark over the fate of their work and payment of future royalties. The firm has also not informed them about payment of pending royalties.

“To overlook JKF’s contribution to the intellectual national development is a social crime. This move adds insult to the injury of the government’s systematic move to destroy the publishing industry. I was just waiting for my year royalty from the foundation when (President William) Ruto moved in furiously, throwing the staff out of the property to a hideout in the urban centre,” protested veteran author David Maillu.

Chuka University lecturer and author Enock Matundura equated the closure of the publishing function to burning down of a national library.

“JKF is a huge heritage for Kenya that we cannot equate to money. It’s a repository of knowledge and there’s a sentimental value attached to it,” he said.

The foundation which has been based along Enterprise Road, Industrial Area has now moved to the former Mitihani House, Caledonia along Dennis Pritt Road. Its former premises has now been occupied by Knec. Mitihani House previously belonged to Knec.

Reliable sources told the Nation that the swap was verbal and that there was no documentation of the handover process.

The CEO of JKF David Mwaniki declined to offer details of the arrangement. “Why don’t you ask the ministry? We’re currently very busy settling students in schools,” he said.

A senior staff member said that publishing of new products has been halted but the old stock is still selling. But the company has not been doing well.

Its fortunes started dwindling with the liberalisation of the publishing industry. However, it is the introduction of the competency-based curriculum and a new government procurement system that saw JKF move from a profitable business into a loss-making enterprise.

Many of their books did not pass the evaluation at KICD and were therefore not procured by the State for supply to schools.