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News Briefs

These pages offer occasional news items of interest to book industry practitioners, especially the book professions in Africa.


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) 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 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


  • 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.