Vita Book is an independent Kenyan publisher supporting people’s struggles to create societies based on the principles of equality and justice. It aims to redress working people’s lack of power over information, communication and the media which then restricts their access to ideas and experiences to resist imperialism. Vita Books strives to connect and unite progressive people everywhere in their battles for justice and equality for everyone. It was formed in 1986 in London by Kenyans forced to seek asylum by the oppressive government under President Daniel arap Moi. It publishes material with focus on people’s resistance to imperialism and their struggle for socialism. Vita Books relocated to Kenya in 2017.
In its first two years or so, it published a number of books and started the free on-line journal, The Kenya Socialist. It is one of the organisations that set up Ukombozi Library, and has been working closely with the Library. it conducts events such as book launches and other forums to sensitise communities on social and political issues which are also the subject matter of its publications. As a publisher working with a library, we connect with a number of community groups whose libraries we helped by donating titles published by VitaBooks. The subject areas that Vita Books publishes in are influenced very much by the political and information needs of working people in Kenya. As a neo-colony, Kenya has continued the imperialist-imposed practice of ‘TINA’ (There Is No Alternative – to capitalism and imperialism). This has affected political as well as information struggles in Kenya, as it has in other countries in a similar situation. That is why Vita Books focuses on areas that are obvious ‘vacuum areas’ created by the ruling elites. One such area is socialism as an alternative to capitalism. In this sense Vita Books has unashamedly taken sides with the struggles of working people and seeks to expose the oppression and exploitation inherent in the current Political and economic set-up. That forms the content of what Vita Books publishes.
But the form of its publications also reflects the needs of the intended audience. One aspect of this is the language of publications – as imperialism seeks to downplay information and culture in minority languages, focusing on English. Thus, our last publication was a dual-language one, with articles in Gujarati and English. One of our forthcoming books – Tunakataa! –is a dual Kiswahili-English collection of resistance poems. This language policy also enables us to reach a readership we would not reach if we published in English only. In a multi-lingual, multi-nationality country such as Kenya, Vita Books also recognises the importance of the availability of different types of resources. We are interested not only in historical topics, but also in arts, culture and literature. One of our future books is a collection of poems and future plans include a collection of short stories by young people struggling for survival in a hostile and unequal society.
Format is also important to Vita Books. The first two booklets published in 1986 (by Ngugi and Durrani) were small format easy to read booklets which could be carried around and hidden from special branch officials on the lookout for ‘subversive’ materials In keeping with its aim of making alternative ideas and experiences available, Vita Books set up the Notes and Quotes Series which are presentation slides on specific themes that are easy to read and follow. They are available, with other material, for free download on the Vita Books website. Vita Books plans in the near future to address another important gap in the information field in Kenya. Many important books on the history and politics of Kenya are now out of print partly as a result of the government’s decision not to include them in school curricula and partly as publishers close down or find it uneconomical to keep such books in print. Vita Books is planning to reprint an important set of such books in 2021. A difficulty in reprinting such material concerns copyright. Publishers need resources to get legal advice on their ability to reprint out of print material