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Book Review

Quarantine reading

Noordin Haji, Director of Public Prosecutions
Noordin Haji, Director of Public Prosecutions. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Noordin Haji,

Director of Public Prosecutions

What book(s) are on your current reading list?

It’s Ramadan, so it’s the Qur’an. I read it with my children and seek to understand the passages.

Any specific book(s) on your bedside table that you must read before calling it a day?

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In any other month, there would be several books I’m reading. There’s The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen. It’s very intense, detailed on how people develop their justice systems.

For us as Africans, we’ve discarded our justice systems and so in a way we have a disconnect and I to agree with the author. It’s a book I keep referring to.

Do you bulk-buy books for future reading? Have you bought new books recently to read during Covid-19 period?

Whenever I travel, I try to block two to three hours to visit a bookshop and scheme through different books. I’m an avid reader of history and so I get a lot of history books.

Recently, more on Islamic history, not just because I’m Muslim, but to understand radicalism, whether it’s a historical issue that recurs.

It’s not just in Islam, all major religions have this. I read to see how it’s been handled differently in the different civilisations.

A more recent book I’ve been reading and have reservations about is Prof Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order. I don’t agree with his explanations and how he classified African politics.

When I’m angry, I scribble my thoughts on the book; a lot of it is my reservations.

Which book(s) on your shelf could you say matches your personality?

I am reserved. Before I became a DPP, I was an intelligence officer. I bought Fukuyama’s book because I was dealing with Somalia at the time.

I buy books depending on my interests and what I’m working on. I read very few novels.

The last novel I read was the Life of Pi. I’d watched the movie, but I found the book more interesting, aren’t they always?

I read a lot on legal matters, the legislation of laws, and how best to interpret them. Right now, I’m planning to go through the Bribery Act. There’s a book on that, on how the UK did it. As for whether there’s a book that matches my personality, I am not sure there is unless I’m writing it myself.

How many books do you have? How long has it taken to build the collection?

I have many books. I’ve built a huge collection. I started collecting books seriously in the year 2000. My favourite bookshop is Kinokuniya in Dubai. It has a wide array in its collection including very rare books.

Which books would you say shaped your life and career?

A lot of history books have shaped my life. And this is history that goes all the way to before colonialism. I focus on Islamic and East African history; a lot of it hasn’t been taught to Kenyans or East Africans.

Africa was a diverse continent with its outlook, civilisations, kings, and most of what I’ve collected is around that. Perhaps when I’m done working I might put in place the role of East Africa.

I once lost a book by a certain princess from Zanzibar that spoke of the rich history that we can look back to and build upon. As Africans, we’ve discarded our history.

How did you develop a reading culture? And how do you fight to maintain it given the intensity of your work?

Well, I forced myself. I used to cry when my mom would force me to read books. My mom was a schoolteacher, so I guess it rubbed off on us.

Also, a lot of reading happened when I went to law school. We had to do a lot of reading.

With law you can’t keep up without reading. You have to read as wide as possible, to break new grounds, build new arguments, jurisprudence...

Given the intensity of the times, and your experience in the judicial system, do you think reading helps draw people out of depressive thoughts and anxiety?

Of course. Reading is very important. However, it depends on what you’re reading. You can’t read depressing stuff and expect otherwise. It can be frustrating when reading what you don’t understand. Choosing the right thing to read can be soothing.

Which is your favourite genre to read?

History generally, about Africa.

If you were to read fiction, which category would you pick drama/romance or thriller?

Well, my children read thrillers, I don’t get it. I’d pick drama.

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Nyawira Muraguri Senior Associate, KawiSafi Ventures

What book(s) are you currently reading?

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, New Daughters of Africa, an anthology of writing by women of African descent and edited by Margaret Busby.

Have you bought new books?

Yes - from the kindle store. Mostly through following reading blogs and recommendations from friends

Which is your favourite genre, and why?

Fiction written by People of colour. It describes a world I understand in one way or another and articulates struggles and joys that I can identify with.

Is reading for leisure only or to add to your work?

Both. The fiction will mostly be for leisure, Nonfiction applies to life and career.

What do you make of reading and mental health during this global pandemic?

I think it is a welcome distraction (especially the light reads) and some of us have some more time to catch up on reading. However for me, I’m aware that I have to be careful not to make it into another task that I have to accomplish - to make sure it doesn’t add more stress to an already stressful situation.

What’s the book on your bedside table?

One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant.

I was introduced to “Acts of Faith” by Iyanla about 10 years ago surprisingly from a DJ in Kenya who read quotes from the book every morning on his show. I have been picking up her books ever since. This one is structured as a devotional and was important on my spiritual journey so I refer to it every now and then.

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