Sasa Sema got its name in a Nairobi drinking joint called Zanzi-Bar. Sasa Sema means: “Hey, what’s happening?” in slang Swahili (but, literally, in Swahili, “Now Say!?”).
The origins of the company stem from 1993, when Lila Luce, an American in Kenya, noticed that Kenyan children were reading Tin Tin and Asterix in English translation. Why weren’t these children reading Kenyan comics in Swahili, the language they are most used to? The answer: there weren’t any! This suggested the possibility of publishing comic books, with good stories, fun and serious, fiction and non-fiction, in full-colour, in Swahili, for the African reader.
The beginning was an up-hill task of sourcing cartoonists from leading newspapers in Kenya, explaining the idea to them and coming up with a publishable manuscript. Although most cartoonists were excited at the idea of getting published, many challenges were faced. Since 1996, when the first book (Gado’s Abunuwasi) came out, the company has published comics and cartoons in Swahili and English, children’s biographies of great African women and men, as well as stories and short literature in Swahili and English.
From inception, of the mission of Sasa Sema has been to stem African’s over-reliance on information from the developed world. The company’s objective is to reverse this trend by exporting highly-packaged information from Africa to the developed world. There are many genres of literature which have not ever been published in Kenya (and in most of Africa) and some of these are in the pipeline.