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Yale/Oxford Student Spearheads American Efforts to Build a Public Library in Rwanda


“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the free public library,” once said the late famous American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. With that in mind, an American student and his Rwandan colleagues in the U.S. and Rwanda have joined forces to build a public library in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

The American Friends of the Kigali Public Library (AFKPL), a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, is committed to working with the Rotary Club of Kigali-Virunga, Rwanda, to spearhead the construction of the library. Founded more than six years ago by Yale Law School / Oxford University student Zachary Kaufman, the AFKPL includes staff and active members from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Africa.

Kaufman, who has worked in Rwanda and conducts research and speaks and publishes on its education and justice systems, hopes that the opening of the library “will play a critical role in promoting literacy in the country.”

The Rwandan government has embraced the project and donated the land on which the library is being built. Rwandan Ambassador to the U.S. Zac Nsenga says that his government recognizes that the institution will send a message to the world that Rwanda is moving past its recent tragic history. The library, according to Kaufman, is helping to open a new chapter in Rwanda’s history by empowering Rwandans through knowledge and information.

Zachary Kaufman, who is the founding president of the AFKPL, is also a scholar on African judicial issues. He recognizes the need for a new generation of Rwandans “to lead the country to a great future”.

Kaufman is hopeful that Americans and the international community will recognize such efforts and work towards supporting the library’s construction and donating books to furnish it.

Resources are being collected in the three official languages of Rwanda: Kinyarwanda, English and French. The proportion of reading material in each language will depend on the needs of the library and the amount of donations it receives in each language.

Kaufman hopes to reach out to the rural population through a “book-mobile” that will travel all over the country, taking material to readers in the other provinces of Rwanda.

He says that in an age of globalization, access to information and technology is one of the most critical aspects of education. In that light, the library plans to house a cyber-café open to the public where individuals can access internet resources. This comes at a time when Rwanda is transforming itself into a knowledge-based economy where technology and information will play a critical role in improving education and health care.