What you need to know:
- Standing there in the motley crowd, I could not help but wonder; what am I doing here? Do these people read other books besides the one that brought them here? Why have I been lumped together with them?
- It is possible that since religious teachings are contained in a book, the people who make important decisions in government decided at some point that the registrar of societies would also be responsible for registering books.
Had I been seeking to register my own church — I’d call it The Tabernacle of Devil Defeaters — I would have been perfectly at home in the crowded reception of the Registrar of Societies in the Office of the Attorney-General.
The glass-walled room was brimming with preachers, prophets and brothers and sisters from the tribe of Benjamin when I visited this week.
I must have been the lone scribe, certainly the only one interested in registering a book.
The only other exception was a stout man trying to register an association for goat farmers. I must admit that peeping at the application forms he was holding made me feel a little sheepish.
All the other people were registering a religious organisation, or trying to change the name of the ones they already had. Every chair available was taken, as was the table in the centre of the room, which had been converted into a bench that sat three.
Standing there in the motley crowd, I could not help but wonder; what am I doing here? Do these people read other books besides the one that brought them here? Why have I been lumped together with them?
It is possible that since religious teachings are contained in a book, the people who make important decisions in government decided at some point that the registrar of societies would also be responsible for registering books.
With that one stroke of the pen, all secular books were fated to be given the same registrar as religious organisations whose main job is to spread the word, so to speak.
And, I reckoned, that was how I had found myself there, sandwiched between a man who wanted to register a church called Envoys of the Most High and a woman whose church was to be called Kiaraho kia Roho (Gathering of the Holy Spirit).
The procedure for registering churches is fairly simple. One shows up with a proposed name and a staffer at the register disappears with it into the innards of the filing room to find out if someone else had registered the name.
If the name was available for use, then the applicant would be required to pay a small fee and file some documents with it. Some files are so deep in the dark heart of the filing room that the attendant has to use a mulika mwizi, the torch on a mobile phone, to locate the file.
The imagery of using a mulika mwizi to find a file on the “Church of Christ” reminded me of Jesus on the cross, sandwiched between thieves.
For books, the procedure is a little different, and apparently, involves more work. So when the staffer receiving the payments saw my books, she dropped them on the floor. And there they lay, looking all prim and neatly trimmed with their glossy covers, lying next to dog-eared files.
They reminded me of town children sharing the night floor with their rural cousins on a trip upcountry.
Seeing that all the files had been attended to, I raised a feeble protest.
“Mtu wa vitabu,” the staffer said, addressing me. “unasema nimekusahau? Unajua books zina mambo mingi? (The man of books, are you saying I forgot you? Are you aware that books are involving?)”
Thankfully, she reached for them on the floor and started recording the information in her receipt book.
The entire process took less than 45 minutes, but I could not help feeling away from home all the time I was there.
It would have made more sense, I reckoned, if the registration of books was done by the Kenya Copyright Board (KeCoBo) or, better still, by the Kenya National Library. After all, writers and publishers have to go to both offices; in the first, to register the copyright for their work and in the second to deposit books for the reference section where a database of all the books published in the country is kept.
The first process costs Sh1,000 and the beauty of it is, one can pay by M-Pesa, eliminating the earlier need to queue in banks to make the deposit. The second is free.
The registrar of societies charges Sh400, but I understand this is postage fee for the registration certificate that is mailed a few weeks after application.
In the past, the three copies deposited with the registrar used to be forwarded to the National Archives as reference material accessible to anyone on request.
I am not sure whether this is still the case. All I know is the law requires every book published in Kenya to be registered. This also applies to e-books and subsequent editions of already registered books.
Although a work is conferred with copyright automatically on publication, authors and publishers retain the discretion of formally registering their work with KeCoBo.
Were these services to be available under one book-friendly roof, more authors and publishers are likely to comply with the law.