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May 2018

  • In January 2018 a high level technical meeting, ADEA-USAID Global Book Alliance Partnership: Time to Eliminate Book Hunger for Children in Africa, was held in Abidjan, organized by the Global Book Alliance (GBA) and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa – Working Group on Books and Learning Materials (WGBLM) http://www.adeanet.org/en/working-groups/books-and-learning-materials in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It sought to develop “a common draft action plan around five pillars for advocating and establishing innovative and effective mechanisms within countries for the production, acquisition, distribution, management and use of textbooks and other reading materials in national languages.” The meeting attracted seventy-nine key stakeholders in the African book publishing industry from 11 Francophone, 10 Anglophone, one Lusophone countries, and 12 representatives of development partners. The workshop report and action plan was published on 29 March 2018. In its conclusion the report states that the setting up of an African Publishing Collaborative was discussed in great detail, largely within groups. The outcome of the discussions forms part of the Action Plan described under a five-point agenda, which was formally adopted at the end of the workshop.

    The five-point agenda, or “five pillars”, are:
  1. Advocacy, policy dialogue and reading promotion: Create awareness for the need of national book and reading policy in ADEA member countries by 2020 and provide technical assistance for that purpose.

  2. Training and research: Establish an online training platform for the African book industry and enable national associations develop effective communication plans with policy makers.

  3. Local languages: Facilitate efforts toward standardizing cross-border and international orthography; and encourage and support linkages and collaborations for local language development.

  4. Publishing partnerships: Foster close partnerships within the publishing industry in countries, across borders and with outside agencies; and catalyzing the development of a stronger, versatile, economically sustainable industry, including encouraging the creation of conducive conditions that facilitate the active exchange of skills and knowledge in the selling and buying of rights, co-publishing and co-editions across borders.

  5. Bookselling and distribution: Strengthen capacity building for booksellers through a standardised curriculum; and develop sustainable models for bookselling and distribution, including the use of new technology.

 

  • Publishing for Sustainable Development: The Role of Publishers in Africa was the topic of an International Publishers Association (IPA) Regional Seminar held in Lagos on 9 May 2018. The one-day seminar was intended to “explore the African publishing market in detail” and brought together book industry professionals from across Africa and beyond to discuss key issues in the industry. The seminar came as “a response to the need for a platform to discuss sectorial innovation and revitalization, and to develop new ideas and solutions.” Topics covered a broad range of issues, from the socio- economic contribution of publishing in Africa, strengthening educational publishing on the continent, enhancing enforcement of copyright and IP laws, to freedom to publish, and the role of technology in overcoming illiteracy and promoting a reading culture.

    See also this IPA press release and this report in Publishing Perspectives.


 

  • In an article in The Guardian “Are There Bookshops in Nigeria?” Alison Flood reports about a controversy at a recent French cultural event held on 25 January in Paris this year, when the celebrated Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie served as the Ambassador of the 2018 edition of La Nuit des Idées (The Night of Ideas), dedicated to the exchange of ideas across “countries, cultures, topics, and generations.” The official opening of the 2018 event took place at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the guest of honour for the evening, Adichie appeared in a long conversation with French journalist Caroline Broué. The video recording of this conversation includes a question posed by the interviewer asking Chimamanda Adichie “Are there bookshops in Nigeria?“ that subsequently provoked a social media furore that went global. Not surprisingly, Adichie did not take kindly to the question and responded: “You know I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you’ve had to ask me that question. I really do. Because I think, surely it’s 2018. I mean, come on. My books are read in Nigeria. They’re studied in schools, not just in Nigeria but across Africa and it means a lot to me.” She later also took to her Facebook page to expand on that, saying “Bookshops are in decline all over the world. And that is worth discussing and mourning and hopefully changing. But the question ‘are there bookshops in Nigeria’ was not about that. It was about giving legitimacy to a deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping, base ignorance about Africa. And I do not have the patience for that.” Although it was later claimed that the journalist was trying to be ironic, by ‘impersonating the ignorant’, it was an attempt at irony that fell decidedly flat.
  • In a rejoinder to the above, There are Bookshops in Nigeria—But Nowhere Near Enough, in the always interesting Quartz Africa, Yomi Kazeem says there is a conversation to be had about bookshops in Nigeria. “Do they exist. Yes. Are there enough of them? Not even close.” The lack of enough retail outlets is particularly frustrating for small independent publishers with general lists, targeting a broad market. For example, Cassava Republic’s books, one of the success stories of African publishing over the last decade, are available in just 33 bookshops across ten states in Nigeria, of which eleven are in Lagos, a city of 21 million people. There is also a lack of chain bookshops or wholesale distributors, and publishers have to deal with individual, for the most part smallish retail outlets. The sharp drop of Nigeria’s Naira currency has also been critical for bookshops and publishers alike; and for many publishers the high cost of production (abroad) and importation, means that the retail prices of books are often far too expensive for the average Nigerian. Meantime public libraries have nearly gone extinct in Nigerian cities, owing largely to lack of book acquisition funds, and the persistent neglect by the Nigerian government to support their public library services.

 

  • In an opinion piece (translated from the French) On France and Francophone African Publishing: A Game of Chess the French scholar Raphaël Thierry – who edits and maintains the lively Editafrica.com website – alleges that there is a “complicity between the media and the representatives of the major book providers in Africa” to present a negative picture of the state of publishing and the book trade in francophone Africa, and calls for a levelling of the playing field. He asserts that French book promotional bodies and agencies, despite regular pious pronouncements that they seek to promote the book industries in all of the Francophonie, have never taken a stance against French publishing conglomerates who between them control 80-90% of francophone Africa’s publishing markets.

    The original article in French can be found here.

 

  • Colleen Higgs will shortly launch a new 4th edition of the African Small Publishers’ Catalogue, including details of publishers in 14 African countries, and presenting a showcase of the variety and vibrancy of independent and small publishing in Africa today. Each entry in this very useful reference resource provides full address details, email address, telephone, website, principal contact person, and an image of the publisher’s logo; together with short, informative profiles describing the activities of each publisher, nature of list and/or focus of its publishing programme, overseas distributors (where applicable), and more. As in previous editions, it will also contain a range of short articles: “new projects and ventures are highlighted and interesting issues in the ever- changing, ever-challenging world of publishing are examined.” For more information info@modjajibooks.co.za.

 

  • South Africa’s Reading Crisis is a Cognitive Catastrophe says John Aitchison, Professor Emeritus of Adult Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. According to the results of the international PIRLS 2016 literacy tests on nearly 13,000 South African school children showed that 78% of grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language. South Africa scored last of the 50 countries tested. “Also worrying was that there were no signs of improvement over the last five years. In fact, in the case of the boys who were tested, the situation may have worsened.” Those most disadvantaged are the children of the poor; the 25% of South Africa’s population who live in extreme poverty. There are several reasons for this dismal picture, Aitchison says, “they range from the absence of a reading culture among adult South Africans to the dearth of school libraries, allied to the high cost of books and lastly to the low quality of training for teachers of reading.”
    Part of South Africa’s reading catastrophe is cultural he states: “Most parents don’t read to their children, many because they themselves are not literate and because there are very few cheap children’s books in African languages … But reading at home also doesn’t happen at the highest levels of middle class society and the new elite either. It’s treated as a lower order activity that’s uncool, nerdy and unpopular. And it’s not a spending priority. South Africans spend twice as much on chocolate each year than they do on books. The situation doesn’t improve at school. Until provincial education departments ensure that every school has a simple library and that children have access to cheap suitable books in their own mother tongues, South Africa cannot be seen as serious about the teaching of reading.”

 


 

  • The new textbook policy recently introduced in Kenya has failed according to Wilson Sossion, Secretary-General of the Kenya National Union of Teachers. Writing in an opinion piece reproduced from the Daily Nation, he alleges that according to recent reports “some 33 million textbooks procured by the government for public schools have multiple errors, and misleading facts are quite alarming but not surprising.” The Kenya National Union of Teachers had warned, he says, that a centralised public procurement system for school textbooks has never worked, and is fraught with challenges. “It does not make sense for the government to select textbooks and impose them on teachers, who actually know and understand what kind of instructional materials their learners really need.” Although the decision to select and purchase textbooks and distribute them to schools was aimed at locking out cartels and middlemen who collude with some head teachers in fraudulent activities regarding textbook procurement, the new policy has turned out to be counter- productive, Sossion says.

 

  • An Investigation of Textbook Vetting and Evaluation Process in Tanzania is a timely recent article by Daniel Rotich, Emily Kogos, and Zamda Geuza that appeared in the March 2018 issue of Publishing Research Quarterly. The authors investigated the role of publishers and the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) in the textbooks vetting and evaluation process; examine the factors used to vet, evaluate and approve primary and secondary school textbooks in Tanzania, and propose strategies that could enhance the various evaluation and processes. The authors found that the process is not professionally conducted although standard criteria have been established; and that it lacks established roles among key players involved in the vetting and evaluation process, leading to conflict of interest between TIE and the publishers. The study recommends establishing an independent professional evaluation board, a well-defined timetable, and more effective communication among various players; as well as enacting a coherent book policy, and adopting a limited multiple-textbook publishing system.


 

  • An insightful talk with author, publisher, journalist and critic Adewale Maja Pearce is the latest in a series of interviews on the Borders Literature Online website. As a writer and critic Maja Pearce – here in conversation with Olatoun Williams – has gained something of a reputation of being deliberately provocative. His public quarrel with Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has been well documented online, and forms a significant part of this interview. He also describes the activities of his publishing house (and editorial services provider) The New Gong, and talks about his writing, the topic of literary criticism, book reviewing, book prizes and book juries, and more.

    Access to earlier Borders interviews, with a number of Nigerian book professionals, African writers and African scholars, as well as a wide range of book reviews, can be found here.


 

  • The Kenya Publishers Association has launched the first issue of its (free) quarterly BookNews magazine, intended to inform the public “on matters of publishing, the new curriculum developments, and various activities and projects that the publishing industry is undertaking.“ Contents in issue 1 (May/June 2018) also includes news about book trade events, book prizes and awards, book reviews, and a number of short articles on issues affecting publishing and the retail trade in Kenya.

 

January 2018

  • Publishers, Authors and Africa’s Cultural Development: Do the African Intelligentsia and the African States Care? is the title of a keynote address delivered by Tanzanian publisher Walter Bgoya at the 3rd East African Literature and Cultural Studies Conference, held Dar es Salaam in August 2017. As a publisher who has been involved in the African book industries for forty-five years, he shares his thoughts about publishers and publishing, writers and writing, and their role in African cultural development; and thereafter reflects on this question: do the African intelligentsia and African state really care? He pays particular attention to the situation of textbook publishing in Tanzania, where conflicting approaches and interests about the development, control and delivery of educational books to schools in the country have been a feature of the Tanzania publishing industry from the very beginning. It has gone through the experience of state publishing (1966–1985), private sector publishing (1991–2012), and in 2014 it reverted yet again to state publishing. The country’s Institute of Education (TIE) has been put in charge of all aspects and all levels of textbook publishing, including commissioning, manuscript development, through to production and distribution. However, there has been public uproar about the unacceptable quality of the books produced by TIE. Members of parliament and the public, who had previously been vociferous in calling for a return to the state publishing model, are now silent and the government has not revealed the next steps to remedy the situation. According to Bgoya, a vast amount of money was squandered, millions of books were pulped, and school children have gone without textbooks. The pre-emptive policy change left publishers with published but unsold stocks and many manuscripts at different pre-printing stages. Meantime no redress to the publishers has been entertained.
    In drawing attention to this ill-fated situation Bgoya says: “My intention is to explicate the effect that such policy insecurity can have on any publishing industry that relies heavily on textbooks, which is pretty much the situation in all African countries.” Given such a situation, can African publishing survive and prosper? “When the problem of publishers’ dependence on winning textbook tenders is disconnected, the urgent question to ask is: why do our societies appear unable to support publishing industries that are not dependent for survival on supplying schoolbooks? Is there no interest in locally published works of fiction, children’s books and trade books, including social science and humanities? Or is this simply a self-fulfilling projection that has been ingested and acted upon by publishers; so focussed on textbook publishing that they do not take the risk to see if they can survive and even thrive moderately without kow-towing to state officials in charge of education. Or even possibly that there is no sufficient research to validate the assumptions made about the prospects of independent publishing.”

 

  • Two further insightful interviews have been published in the Borders Literature Online series of book trade interviews, with members of the Nigerian book professions in conversation with Olatoun Williams. One is an Interview with Nigerian publisher Bankole Olayebi of Bookcraft Ltd, a company that has published a large number of high quality titles in a diverse range of subjects, including art, biography, history, literature, politics, current affairs, as well as general trade books and large format coffee table titles. Olayebi talks about the challenges of the book industry in Nigeria, challenges which have become ever more acute in recent years. One of them is the dearth of qualified and well-trained, publishing professionals (designers, editors, proof readers, book packagers, and others) “who understand how the book business should work. It seems to me that over the years regrettably, not enough time and effort has been invested in the training of publishing professionals. The result is that today, it has become very difficult to find the right people to fill various roles; and it's not very easy to find people to train for these roles.”

    Another is a conversation with Nigerian publisher and digital entrepreneur Gbenro Adegbola of First Veritas in which he talks about his background, how he got into publishing, the digital vs. print debate, developing digital content, the need to invest in publishing training and education, the major challenges facing the Nigerian book industries, and the main threats to the industry, with the menace of piracy high up on the list. Another major hurdle, Adegbola says, is access to funding and credit: “I find that the financial industry is blissfully ignorant of what we do. They don’t understand it. They confuse it with printing and that has affected access to credit. In fairness to them, the role of the publisher is not so obvious. The understanding of what publishing constitutes how publishers make money - you find that a lot of people don’t understand it.”


 

  • The African Literary Hustle in Blind Field journal is provocative article by Sarah Brouillette, an Associate Professor of English at Carleton University in Canada, whose research interests include economic and political circumstances that underpin and influence the production, circulation and reception of contemporary literature and culture. And that includes African literature, and how that literature circulates in Western markets. In this long, and arguably somewhat contentious essay, she asserts that “the recent renaissance in African literature has had little do with development of viable literary readerships in Africa, and viably capitalized production facilities. The post-independence quest to develop literary readerships and publishing and printing trades faced massive hurdles; it was nearly stopped by IMF and World Bank structural adjustment and trade liberalization in the 1990s, and has now been all but abandoned. The field of contemporary Anglophone African literature relies instead on private donors, mainly but not exclusively American, supporting a transnational coterie of editors, writers, prize judges, event organizers, and workshop instructors. The literary works that arise from this milieu of course tend to be targeted at British and American markets.”

    She then follows this with a short section entitled ‘Aspects of the History of Literary Publishing in Africa’, quoting from some of the recent literature. We have witnessed, she says, an African literary revival, or “literary hustle”, and there is now a thriving African literary community across key cities. However, they are “a coterie, often working with donor support for their publications and workshops, and able to build upon the connections and synergies that exist within any small relatively wealthy group of cultural producers and consumers – journalists, musicians, academics, and so on. Writers who belong to this particular coterie are published abroad, supported by US creative writing and English department professorships, and by US- and UK-based literary agencies.” As a result, “while there is a small readership in these urban centres, it isn’t that important that there be local readers. These writers have bypassed the problem of the absent African reader. There is donor funding to support the activity of writing, to award prizes to authors, and to facilitate access to US and other foreign markets.”


 


 


 

  • The ‘Opinions’ pages of African Books Collective’s subsite Read African Books, continue to grow and include two recent interviews conducted by Stephanie Kitchen of the International African Institute:

    The first is an Interview with Francis Nyamnjoh, Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon in which he talks about the mission and activities of the Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group (Langaa RPCIG) . He also describes Langaa’s commissioning strategy and how they market and distribute their books within Africa and internationally; Langaa’s readership worldwide, their writing workshop programmes, what they see as their most important challenges, and what does he think is needed to strengthen research, publishing and distribution systems for general and academic publishers in the African continent? “We need to be curious and ask questions. We need to read and write. We need to encourage reading and writing. We need to promote Langaa, a desire for knowledge. We need to value knowledge generation in Africa and from African perspectives. We need to support African publishers.”

    The second interview is with Francois van Schalkwyk of African Minds who heads the South African open access, not-for-profit publisher African Minds, and also the co-author of an important new investigation The African University Press. In this interview he sets out the background to this project, describes the case studies of a number of African university presses that formed part of the report, as well as the publishing practices of academics at these institutions. He also talks about the barriers to achieving a higher rate of open access publishing on the continent, and the steps that are needed to address these: “The expectation of universities for their presses to be profitable in nascent markets, and not giving consideration to the reputational benefits that a non-market-oriented publishing model could yield, is certainly one such barrier.” Another is academic authors’ expectation of receiving royalty payments from the sale of their books, and university presses in Africa “cannot reconcile open access and the perceived loss of sales income with the royalty expectations of their authors”, he says. “Beyond these specific barriers, and I am sure there are others, I think there is a general lack of understanding and confidence to experiment when it comes to open access publishing.”

    On the topic of institutional repositories Van Schalkwyk states “My concern is that repositories are being seen as a silver bullet when in reality they are part of a broader publishing ecosystem; an ecosystem that consists of institutional repositories, libraries, academic authors, indexing agencies, publishers (both university presses and others), and service providers. I think there are many repositories gathering dust because they were seen as a panacea to making a university’s research output more visible and accessible.”


 

  • In a thoughtful and eloquent address given at the opening of the South African Book Fair on 8 September 2017 The State of a Reading/Writing Nation Zakes Mda – the award-winning South African novelist, playwright, and poet – describes the state of the book and the culture of reading in South Africa today, and also offers some astute observations about the new digital environment, social media, pulp fiction, and informal reading circles and book clubs. Reading in all languages must be respected and, he says, “it saddens me that today literature in indigenous African languages is so marginalized that we can only conceive of a culture of reading in English. This is not because books in indigenous languages do not exist. Every year new books are published in most of the languages of South Africa, in addition to the classics in languages such as isiXhosa, Sesotho and isiZulu that have had a literary tradition dating from the 1800s. The problem lies with book distribution rather than the book publishing sector. You may go to any of our major bookstores chains today, say Exclusive Books or CNA, and ask for the latest Sesotho novel by Nhlanhla Maake, a Setswana novel by Sabata-Mpho Mokae or an isiXhosa novel by Ncedile Saule, and the likelihood is that you will not find it in stock. It is a Catch 22 situation because the bookstores will tell you they don’t stock such novels because no one buys them, but the readers will tell you they don’t buy them because they are not in stock. This is a cumulative result of the marginalization of indigenous languages in South Africa today in all spheres of life.”

    He is also critical of the sharp decline in editorial standards in publishing in South Africa. “Poor editing is the bane of South African books generally, even so-called quality fiction and non-fiction by reputed publishers … Publishers in South Africa are letting reader and writer down, and disrespecting them. Such shoddiness will be the death of the book.”

    Mda ends his address by emphasizing that cultures reproduce themselves. “A reading culture once cultivated produces more readers and more readers produce more writers, who then in turn produce more readers. It all begins with a seed.”


 

  • Johann Mouton, who is director at The Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University, in a paper entitled Scholarly Publishing in SA: The Qualitative Imperative, reflects on the growth in scholarly publishing in South Africa over the last 25 years, and how this has been influenced by the subsidy system of South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training (DoHET). In his presentation, focusing on the “qualitative challenge”, he acknowledges that concerns over the quality of scientific outputs and unethical publishing practices have emerged and increased. He gives several reasons for concern over the journals where South African academics publish most frequently, including the persistence of questionable publication practices and predatory journals. However, while agreeing that there are problems that could and should be addressed, the author feels strongly that it would be irresponsible to consider a total scrapping of the scientific publishing system in South Africa, since the funding from this system is a lifeline for science in South Africa. He says “it is important to emphasize that the digitization of publishing and the advent of OA journals and books are in and by themselves progressive forces. These ‘movements’ have greatly increased access to knowledge, improved participation in and even the democratization of publishing through more transparent peer-review processes. However, as is often the case, they also contain(ed) in themselves the potential for misuse and abuse by unscrupulous publishers, editors and other actors who are intent only on profiting from these through whatever means of deception and misrepresentation.”

    In another recent paper by Johann Mouton, co-authored with Astrid Valentine and published in the South African Journal of Science, The Extent of South African Authored Articles in Predatory Journals, the authors present a critical examination of so-called predatory publishing in academic circles in South Africa, and which confirms that predatory publishing is not only present, but also becoming increasingly common. The study highlights the challenges and dangers that arise from predatory publishing, including how this could compromise the careers of young scholars and scientists, as well as posing a threat to peer review. In the final analysis, the authors say, “it is clear that predatory publishing poses a serious challenge to science in South Africa. If it continues to increase at the rate of growth seen in the past 5 years, predatory publishing may well become accepted practice in some disciplines and at some universities. Not only will it affect the very fabric of the science system (our confidence in the peer-review system), but it will also undermine the trust and confidence of the general public in science and its products.” The authors conclude with some suggestions about predatory publishing and its pervasive consequence for our trust in science, and how this should be addressed by the major stakeholders in the South African higher education system.


 

  • In an interesting CP-Africa Interview, Ofili Okechukwu and the OkadaBooks Story, Bimbola Segun-Amao talks to Nigerian entrepreneur Okechukwu Ofili, founder of Okadabooks, an e-distribution start-up that has developed a popular publishing/reading app for Android mobiles or tablets and other platforms. It takes its name from the Okada motorcycle taxis, commonly used in Nigeria and in other parts of West Africa used to overcome traffic congestion. Okadabooks says it “seeks to bypass the traffic in the Nigerian book publishing industry by making it easy to publish books, making it cheap to buy books, but more importantly making it fun to read books on mobile devices ….We created the platform primarily to give up and coming authors published or unpublished an avenue to get their works distributed and monetized as early as possible …. It’s a fast, simple and fun way to read books without ever leaving your couch!” Okada thus seeks to harness the power of the mobile phone to make it easier and cheaper for Nigerians to read.

    In this conversation Okechukwu talks about the Okada story, how it started and was funded, the e-technology they use, the number of books they offer and their authors, their current challenges on various fronts, the business lessons they have learnt so far, and also offers some sound advice for fresh tech entrepreneurs: He says that it is easy to get a bit of media coverage in Nigeria, and “so you may believe your idea is great, not realizing it is not. So don’t judge yourself by vanity metrics. Judge by quality and impact metrics, like traction, revenue and growth.”


 


 

  • The Canadian organization CODE has published a wide-ranging report by Espen Stranger-Johannessen Africa Language and Literacy. A Landscape Review of Language and Literacy Research in African Contexts that addresses key issues based on recent research on language and literacy education in the African context, including teacher education, and outlines key findings and recommendations for research and practice based on a review of the literature. It also includes a discussion (sub-section 3.3) about ‘Publishing in African Languages’. Part I of the report reviews focal areas of research and is based on academic articles and reports. Part II presents case studies of policies and teacher education, with a focus on 21st century skills, from six countries associated with CODE’s work in Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. These case studies provide valuable insight into the key issues discussed in Part I of the report.

  • In a section entitled ‘Literacy Materials and Publishing’, the report states “Print literacy materials, such as textbooks and storybooks, are key to helping students develop high levels of literacy. Yet there are often few textbooks and storybooks in African schools, particularly in African languages. Increasing the number of books available to students is important, but teachers’ use of textbooks and storybooks in the classroom is also key, as making books available does not necessarily mean they will be utilized effectively. The publishing industry faces challenges from low demand and import of books from abroad.” Publishing in African languages is only financially viable if there is a market for those books, either in the form of government guarantees or incentives, or other ways in which publishers can be confident that there is a market for their books.

    On the aspect of ICT and digital resources, the report says that ICT is often seen as a promising contribution to education in Africa and elsewhere, but there are high costs and technical and implementation challenges associated with introducing digital devices to schools. “ICT is more than devices for end-users, however. Open educational resources are important for sharing and creating materials, particularly in African languages.”


 

  • A thoughtful article by South African novelist and short-story writer Henrietta Rose Innes, The Tremors Through South African Literature recently appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. It takes the reader through her experience as a writer in the post-apartheid era since the late 1990s, “when South African writing still felt isolated from the rest of the continent and the world”, but “a handful of venerable literary magazines with tiny circulations existed, and a small number of publishers valiantly focused on local work.” That included Kwela Books, an imprint tasked with publishing new and diverse voices in the post-apartheid era. Thereafter, round about the mid-2000s, “something else started to happen: genre fiction erupted. Suddenly it was acceptable for local writers to take to crime.” Along with this shift, the author says, came greater visibility for local literary fiction. Book clubs that previously would only read international prize-winners started paying attention to home-grown authors. Prizes, festivals and creative writing courses multiplied. These creative writing programmes in particular succeeded in promoting a slew of talented new writers, and new publishing activities.

  • Nonetheless, “times remain tough in publishing, in South Africa as in the world. Sales of literary fiction are sparse and growing sparser.” Right now the major tremors running through the South African literary world have to do with race. “Race is, as always in South Africa, the issue, and through all the country’s changes, the publishing establishment has remained stubbornly white-dominated. In conjunction with the past two years’ fierce student activism for the ‘decolonization’ of universities, a movement to ‘decolonize’ literature has taken root.” A new festival, the Abantu Books Festival, specifically for black writers and readers, was founded last year by the author Thando Mgqolozana, and took place for the second time in December 2017, in Soweto. Blackbird Books, likewise, is a new publishing imprint founded in 2015 for exclusively black writing. Most significantly though, there is a cohort of younger writers who have taken their places on the literary stage: “These transformations are turbulent, hopeful, at times confrontational, at times euphoric – and long overdue. South African writers may take a decade or two to process our radical shifts, but we get there in the end.”


 

August 2017

  • The Los Angeles Review of Books has published an extensive and hugely insightful Interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the world-renowned Kenyan writer, scholar, and social activist. In conversation with Nanda Dyssou, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o talks about his role in the writing community, his publishing history and successes, his readership, what he considers to be his most important accomplishments, and his strong views on writing and publishing in African languages. “The problem is that, unfortunately, those that write in African languages remain invisible, their works are hardly ever reviewed or translated. Publishing venues are limited” he says, and getting published “is one of the most infuriating challenges of writing in African languages. There are hardly any publishing houses devoted to African languages. So writers in African languages are writing against great odds: no publishing houses, no state support, and with national and international forces aligned against them. Prizes are often given to promote African literature but on the condition that the writers don’t write in African languages.”
    In response to a question where he thinks the future of reading and writing is headed, Ngũgĩ says “the new technologies, electronic media, open vast possibilities. In Globalectics, I have argued that orality is coming back. I call it cyberorality. Look at the language of the Internet: chat rooms, Facebook friends, communities, et cetera. Social media is the electronic version of the old rumour mill writ large. We used to call it bush telegraph — that is, before the Internet. Maybe we should now call it ‘electronic rumour.’ But for Africa, the real frontier is writing and publishing in African languages.”

 

  • The African University Press, an impressive new study by François van Schalkwyk and Thierry M. Luescher of the Cape Town-based African Minds Project and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, provides an overview of the current African university press landscape, and examines the opportunities and constraints faced by university presses in Africa. While there are new and enabling conditions and opportunities for university presses to increase production and to widen distribution, the authors ask: How can African university presses make the most of these opportunities? Most likely, they believe, in deploying the technological changes in production, distribution and marketing made possible by digitisation and network effects of the Internet. The study is based on a baseline survey of university presses in Africa, in-depth case studies of selected university presses, and an analysis of the publishing choices made by African academics.

    Overall the study presents a rather dismal picture of university presses in Africa today. The authors found that “university presses in Africa are not yet making use of technological advances to reconfigure their production, distribution and marketing processes, nor are they experimenting with new publishing models such as open access. While case studies of selected university presses surfaced unsurprising challenges (such as scarce resources and limited capacity), they also show that university presses in Africa are constrained by institutional logics that are holding them back from experimenting with new ways of doing things.” The report concludes with a set of pragmatic recommendations: “recommendations that are simultaneously attuned to the opportunities and to the realities of African university presses as revealed by the research conducted.”

    As part of this project, African Minds have also created an interactive map of university presses in Africa that is continuously being updated. Users can either view the map by applying any of a number of filters, or download the full dataset at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1URiTsMVkeM12DlZT7IfxqcYgVEt0hohIi4xIy983FI8/edit#gid=0.


 

  • An Interview with Hans Zell in conversation with Olatoun Williams of Borders—Literature for all Nations, has been published on this new Nigerian forum and book review media platform. In this wide-ranging two-part interview he talks about his engagement with publishing and the book in Africa over a period of over four decades, as well as answering questions about the Hans Zell Publishers imprint, author-publisher interaction in Africa, the new boom in self-publishing, and conveys his views about the potential negative consequences on the African book industries of the activities of overseas book donation programmes, shipping millions of free books to Africa every year. Borders intend to publish a range of further interviews with book industry professionals in the months ahead.

 

  • In an interview with Henrick Alfredsson, Her Mission: To Bring African Books to a Global Audience, Mary Jay, former CEO of African Books Collective Ltd, reflects on the prospects and challenges of the African book industries, and her involvement over the past three decades promoting the works of African authors and academic scholars to a global audience. Surprisingly, Mary Jay says, “few are aware of the importance of encouraging and supporting African publishing, even in the academic world of the Global North. Today in many UK universities, and probably elsewhere in the world as well, you can take a degree or master’s in African Studies without reading a single book published in Africa.” In many African countries and regions, like so many other sectors, the book market has also been infected by corruption and unfair competition, in some cases caused by big and powerful actors from the Global North, she says. Meantime overseas book donation programmes on a massive scale can have unintentionally negative consequences. In some cases when book aid organizations send large quantities of books, often textbooks for educational purposes, they unwittingly kill the market for regional or local publishers and writers. The donated books are almost without exception published outside of Africa, and written by non-African authors: “It is vital that African children have access to books published from within their own cultures, books that relate to their own lives and experiences. It would be preferable for Northern donations to be in the form of budgets for purchase, rather than the expense of shipping container-loads of books, which are too often simply library or publisher overstocks.”

 

  • A new report commissioned by Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) – Working Group on Books and Learning Materials, A Comparative Study on the Role of Digital Media and Print Media in Enhancing Literacy and Reading Culture in Africa, examines the general context of literacy and reading culture in Africa, focusing on the contribution of printed books and digital materials. It explores the challenges of digital media and suggests interventions “that optimize reading of printed books and digital content to improve literacy for a better reading culture in Africa both in international and national languages.” The research draws attention to the fact that, as the number of printed books is expanding to reach a variety of audiences – covering a wide range of topics and knowledge - electronic publishing is equally expanding rapidly: “The two options are now available to publishers and the choice of a publisher will depend on a number of factors such as the cost, objectives and the prevailing circumstances.” The study notes that “numerous reports indicate that many pupils and students go through primary and secondary school without acquiring sufficient reading skills.” It recommends that “since technology will not replace reading in the near future, it is imperative to use the technology to enhance it. Reading on paper will always remain important and enjoyable and this means that the printed book will never lose its value and importance.”

 

  • A paper by Eve Gray A Critique of Research Dissemination Policy in South Africa, with Recommendations for Policy Reform reviews the policy context for research publication in South Africa, using South Africa’s relatively privileged status as an African country and its elaborated research policy environment as a testing ground for what might be achieved – or what needs to be avoided - in other African countries. The policy review takes place “against the background of a global scholarly publishing system in which African knowledge is seriously marginalised and is poorly represented in global scholarly output. Scholarly publishing policies that drive the dissemination of African research into international journals that are not accessible in developing countries because of their high cost effectively inhibit the ability of relevant research to impact on the overwhelming development challenges that face the continent.”

    The paper charts “a set of conflicting expectations of academic institutions and their values in research policies. On the one hand, the government has an expectation of social and development impact from the university in return for its investment in research funding. At the same time, there are increased pressures towards privatisation of the universities, with a decline in traditional financial support from the state, and, linked to this, pressure on the university to demonstrate results in the form of greater Intellectual Property Rights enclosure. Thus, while South African research and innovation policies stress the need for development impact, performance measures focus on patents or publication in internationally-indexed journals, effectively inhibiting the effective dissemination of research and thus greatly retarding its potential development impact.”

    The paper concludes with a set of recommendations at international, national and institutional levels for addressing this situation, arguing that open access, and collaborative approaches, could bring substantially increased impact for African research, with marked cost-benefit advantages.


 

  • A Case for National Book and Reading Policies for Africa in the Advent of the Digital Revolution, by Lily Nyariki and Lisa Krolak is an advocacy policy paper prepared for the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) – Working Group on Books and Learning Materials, and published by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. UNESCO and other organizations have repeatedly stressed over the years that, in order to ensure that book development is integrated in overall national development planning, the establishment of national book development councils is an essential requirement to guide national book policies; to serve as an intermediary between the book professions and the government, and to provide coordination between the different players in the book sector. As the authors of this policy paper note, national book development councils (or similar bodies) exist, or have existed, in several African countries, albeit “with varying degree of success”. Several of them are currently dormant, or have shut down operations altogether. It could be argued that the main reason for this is that their funding has always been based either on government support, or dependent on continuing financial aid from donor organizations; and when the funding came to an end activities ceased. This advocacy document is a plea for their revival. In their conclusions the authors state “national book and reading policies are at the core of educational quality, literacy development, lifelong learning, and sustainable development. Africa needs to position itself to achieve the UN SDGs, and its own set of targets as stipulated in Agenda 2063 and CESA 2016-25 if it is to catch up with the rest of the world. All African countries owe it to themselves to formulate their book and reading policies and enact National Book and Reading Councils.”

 

  • Thinking Twice Before Donating: “We Don’t Want Other People’s Rubbish” is an article by American librarian Mary Grace Flaherty in the Summer 2017 issue of the IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Newsletter. While spending some time in Malawi on a Fulbright scholarship award she had opportunities to visit all types of libraries in that country: academic, school, and community based. During her visit she found that many of the books in collections were donations shipped by book aid organizations, but did not fit the scope of any of the collections and were discards from libraries overseas. “While the gifts signify a lovely spirit of generosity and willingness to help, it takes a considerable amount of resources to ship them, such as the staff time to get them ready for shipping, the physical resources (boxes, labels), and, of course, the shipping itself. Whether they come by land, sea or air, books are heavy and expensive to transport.” As the headmaster in one of the schools she visited aptly put it, “It’s nice they send the stuff, but we don’t want other people’s rubbish.” Flaherty goes on to suggest: “Don’t put anything in a box to send overseas that has been withdrawn because it can’t withstand circulation and don’t put anything in a box to send overseas because it is outdated. When the need for generosity arises, we should consider working directly with individual libraries in a deliberate and measured way to send new or lightly used items by using wish lists, or sending a donation so they can procure for themselves what they deem as appropriate. Rather than using funds and resources to ship old books around the globe to foist upon under-resourced libraries, we should be supporting local and regional authors and publishers through organizations such as the African Books Collective (ABC), a great resource for procuring books by local and regional authors.”

 

  • A blog post in The Economist  From Abuja to the Arctic. Norway and Nigeria’s Unlikely Bibliophilic Collaboration reports that the National Libraries of Nigeria and Norway are to sign a letter of intent concerning the digitization of books in Nigerian languages by the National Library of Norway. “Our aim is to give access to digitized books in indigenous Nigerian languages to Nigerians living in Norway through our multilingual library. We also hope that this project becomes a model for our cooperation with other countries, and the success of more African languages” Jens-Petter Kjemprud, Norway’s ambassador to Nigeria is quoted as saying. The agreement will cover literature written in the Nigerian languages of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo (although the first two can be described as cross-border languages, also spoken in some other countries of the West African region). The costs will be shared, with the library in Nigeria responsible for collecting and making available copies of the material to be digitized, while the Norwegians will be responsible for undertaking the digitization. Questions relating to formats and access (and rights issues?) will presumably be answered in the months ahead, and this is certainly a most welcome development and might well serve as a pilot for similar collaborative ventures with African national libraries elsewhere with significant holdings in African language materials.

 

  • Publishers Weekly, in a story by Ed Nawotka, Cassava Republic Brings Africa to America reports about the new US distribution arrangements of Nigerian publisher Cassava Republic, having earlier launched a UK operation in April of 2016. Asked why she decided to expand to the US, Bakare-Yusuf said that it was partially about ‘legitimacy’ and would play well at home, giving her publishing a house an edge in attracting talent. But, she added, there’s something more at stake than mere pragmatism: “Our aim is to show the broader reading audience that there is more to African life and literature than what you might read in the news. We know that many Americans will pick up these books out of curiosity at first. But they will find stories that they themselves can relate to and characters they can identify with.”


April 2017

  • The International Publishers Association Global Book Fair Report is an annual compendium of world book fairs that complements the IPA’s International Book Fair Calendar, and aims to provide insider insights and interviews with the people behind the events. The 2017 report is split into geographical regions: the Americas, Africa (sadly, no listing here for the once renowned Zimbabwe International Book Fair), Asia/Oceania, Europe, and the Middle East/Central Asia. The 2017 report also contains ‘Special focus’ pages on Nigeria and the Nigeria International Book Fair, and Egypt and the Cairo International Book Fair. The Nigeria focus pages includes an interview with Gbadega Adedapo, Current President of the Nigerian Publishers Association, discussing issues such as the structure of Nigeria’s book market, Nigerian reading habits, the ratio of local vs. imported foreign books, recent developments in fighting piracy and enforcement of copyright, and the use of e-books and mobile devices. On the topic of digital publishing and devices Adedapo says: “E-books and reading on mobile devices are at the introductory stage and the adoption by publishers is gradually improving. It is perceived that embracing e-books might increase piracy and undermine intellectual property protection. Secure management of e-books is perhaps one of the main concerns of publishing firms, and is consequently thought to be delaying adoption. The e-book market is just emerging. Some publishing houses have it at experimental stage while its adoption in an e-book pioneering state such as Osun raised sustainability questions.”

 


 

  • Complementing its main website, the African Books Collective Ltd (ABC) – the non-profit, Oxford-based, worldwide marketing and distribution outlet for some 2,500 print and e-book titles from over 150 independent African publishers – has recently launched an informative and rich new sub-site called Read African Books, which “offers a place where people can come to read about the latest books, news, reviews and comment, on African publishing.” Its aim is “to help grow awareness of the issues affecting African books and publishing – to celebrate its diversity – and to increase the visibility of African books worldwide.” ABC welcomes views or comments on these pages.

    A recent contribution is Akoss Ofori-Mensah’s Conversations on Book Development in West Africa.  Ofori-Mensah is the founder and Chair of Sub-Saharan Publishers, a well-known Ghanaian publisher specializing in African picture-story books for children, as well as publishing in the areas of African literature, gender studies, books on the environment, and a range of other scholarly books. In this insightful interview she talks about issues such as production quality of African-published books, donor and government support for literary and educational initiatives in Africa and the key players involved, buying and selling rights for her distinguished children’s list and her notable successes in this area, and the rapidly changing publishing environment of the provision and teaching and learning materials (TMLS) in Africa and elsewhere.

    On the topic of digital media Ofori-Mensah says the development in new technologies vis-à-vis teaching and learning materials in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot be overlooked. However, some content might interest learners and teachers, while other content may not. “Although digital books and TLMS may eventually replace printed books, it is likely to be a gradual process.” Moreover, “the choices are neither simple nor cost efficient, and there is perhaps no viable substitute for the traditional book, at least for the moment. Over the next decade or two, the most cost-effective approach may be a combination of printed materials and digital TLMS, especially for the teaching of science.”  In addition to infrastructural problems such erratic electricity supply, especially in rural areas, “the expense involved in the digital migration vis à vis the traditional book must also be considered. The cost of computers, tablets, phones, etc. In addition the cost of set-up should be compared with the cost of funding [conventional] print runs and distribution, to decide which is more cost effective. … Elementary school teachers will also have to be ICT literate to be able to teach digital TLMs. That is another huge investment required in teacher training. … I believe that the book as we know it will stay with us for many generations to come. You can go to bed with your book: when you fall asleep it falls down on the bed or on the floor. When you wake up it is still there, intact. You cannot do that with your computer.”


 

  • Bookwitty is a lively new platform “where people can discover, create and share content about books on a variety of topics.” It has recently published the first two in a series of interviews with African publishers, “part of an ongoing Bookwitty project that celebrates the importance of independent publishers.” The interviews cover questions such as ‘What is your editorial line? What makes you stand out?’, ’What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent publisher?’, to questions about the most significant challenges, and how publishers interact with their readers.
    Read the full interviews here:
    In Conversation with Nigerian Independent Publisher Cassava Republic
    South African Modjaji Books on the Work of Finding Female Voices

 

  • These are difficult times for Nigerian publishers according to a report by Anote Ajeluorou in Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper. Booksellers’ persistent failure to pay publishers for books supplied is threatening to cripple the book business in Nigeria, the author says. Publishers accuse them of failing to remit amounts due even though they have actually sold books supplied to them. Booksellers and distributors, in turn, cite poor sales figures, difficult trading conditions, and the rising cost of running their business as the reasons for their poor credit record. Meanwhile authors continue to put pressure on publishers to pay royalties in a timely fashion even if publishers have failed to receive payment, and with some of them facing severe cash flow problems. A number of publishers have written off huge amounts of bad debts, and publishers say that, in practice, they can only pay royalties based on the money they have received, and not for what they supplied. The result, the author says, has led not only to a climate of mistrust among the different players in the book industry, but also between publishers and their authors, and some publishers are now increasingly turning to alternative models for distribution and retail sales.