Buma kor cameroon publisher publishers books by oape 1

[EN] "African Publishing on the Rise for the best!" by Buma KOR

A turning point in African Publishing was reached in Nairobi, Kenya, last June that will determine the future of African publishing in many directions long before the end of the 21st Century. The Lagos Action Plan of the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the African Union (AU) Draft Continental Book and Reading Policy Framework are definitely going to be the game changer doing business in the African publishing scene.

Two landmark events took place in one month last June 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya, to change the face of doing business in the African publishing arena for the better – why not the best! These were the International Publishers Associations (IPA) Seminar on “Africa Rising: Realising Africa’s Potential as a Global Publishing Leader in the 21st Century” organised with the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) at the Movenpick Hotel, Nairobi from 14 – 15 June 2019, where the Lagos Action Plan was unveiled,  and the High Level Regional Workshop on National Book and Reading Policies in Africa organised by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) with support from USAID under the Global Book Alliance that held at the Park Inn Hotel by Raddison, Westlands, Nairobi from 17 – 19 June 2019, which validated the “African Union (AU) Continental Book and Reading Policies Framework.”

These two events, hopefully, will bring to an end the talkshop conferences on African publishing and book development that has been going on for nearly 40 years without significant outcomes.  They signalled, henceforth, that there will be action, action and action to realise the concrete decisions taken. It was a Turning Point for African Publishing growth, and as one participant puts it, “This is the African publishing industry’s time to shine.” These decisions have come so long they seem unbelievable and unrealistic, given past pronouncements and declarations by government authorities; but this time, with faith and determination and the will to do it by all stakeholders, they will come to pass within our very eyes well before the end of this century.

Not to forget! The other landmark events in African publishing took place over 35 years ago, namely:

• 1973 – First International Conference on Publishing and Book Development in Africa was held in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 16-20 December 1973;

• February? 1975 – Establishment of the Africa Book Publishing Record (ABPR) by Hans Zell in Oxford, UK.;

• March 1975 – Creation in Yaoundé, Cameroon, of a UNESCO initiative: the Regional Centre for Book Development in Africa (CREPLA) by the Cameroon government; Decree No. 75/178 of March 11, 1975;

• 1980 – The Frankfurt Book Fair highlighted African books and writers;

• 1989 – Establishment in London, UK., of Africa Book Collectives by a group of 17 African publishers to expose and promote African books abroad; and

• 1992 – Establishment of the African Publishers Network (APNET) in Harare, Zimbabwe.

According to documentations from the International Publishers Association (IPA), the seminar, Africa Rising: Realising Africa’s Potential as a Global Publishing Leader in the 21st Century built on May last year’s discussions in Lagos, Nigeria, on the role of the publishing industry in sustaining development, in which future readers are increasingly likely to be found in emerging publishing markets.

Rough estimates indicate Africa’s publishing market is worth over $1 billion, has over 500 million book buyers and is growing upwards of 5% annually. With 60% of Africa’s population under 24, the region has a young, increasingly digitally connected population. At the same time, readers globally are seeking out more diverse books with a growing interest in other cultures, countries, ideas, and lifestyles. In response, there is a significant wave of African literary talent focussed on the region as well as reaching global markets. Global publishers are also starting to take notice of Africa’s literary talent and favourable market prospects fuelled by a thirst for culture, localised narratives, and learning.

Against this backdrop of surging interest in African publishing, the International Publishers Association’s Africa Seminar Series was established in May 2018 in Lagos, with the aim to promote purposeful action towards building African publishing markets as well as catalysing fruitful dialogue and productive partnerships with the continent and between Africa and the rest of the world.

In charting a new future for African Publishing, the IPA’s Africa Seminar Series is establishing itself as a global reference in forging new approaches to challenges faced by developing publishing markets and promoting best practices for industry progress that can be applied globally. The participatory manner in which the Lagos Action Plan was developed will be emphasised in its implementation and in future action plans and pilots. In this way, the publishing industry can be a positive force for addressing the toughest issues facing regions, countries and communities on the path to sustainable development including poverty, conflict, inequality, unemployment and other future challenges. This was the second seminar on African publishing organised by the International Publishers Association on the African soil, which brought together over 600 participants from 50 countries. (see

Coming on the heels of the International Publishers Associations’ Africa Rising Seminar was the High Level Regional Workshop on Book and Reading Policies in Africa organised by ADEA/USAID and Global Book Alliance Partnership that focused on advocating for the formulation and implementation of National Book and Reading Policies and create awareness among governments and key stakeholders on the need for, and essential roles of, a National Book and Reading Policy and a National Book Development Council (NBDC) with the primary mandate to stimulate the book industry and promote literacy and a reading culture. The policy and council are critical, the organisers say, in meeting the ambitious overall goals of education, articulated in the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25) and the Sustainable Development Goal number 4 (SDG4).

Education, noted the Concept Note for this workshop, is one of the fundamental factors of development. It raises people’s creativity and productivity and plays a critical role in securing social and economic progress. Yet, according to the 2018 World Development Report on “Learning to Realize Education’s Promise,” millions of children globally are unable to read, write and solve basic math problems after several years of schooling. The crisis is more severe in Africa. The January 2016 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, Policy Paper 23, observes that “next to an engaged and prepared teacher, well-designed textbooks in sufficient quantities are the most effective way to improve instruction and learning.”

The publishing industry is a key actor in the sustainable provision of quality learning materials and the publishing industry actors across Africa have consistently identified the lack of national book and reading policies as a major impediment to the creation of a robust publishing industry that meaningfully supports academic achievements across the school system, especially in the primary and secondary school levels.

The Books and Learning Materials (BLM) section of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) has been focusing for a number of years to help build a strong and inclusive framework for National Book and Reading Policies in Africa with the African Union Commission. The African Union Commission developed a framework that guided the discussions of the workshop. This regional seminar brought a strong awakening for all Minsters of Education (MoE) in Africa to work closely with ADEA and the African Union Commission (AUC)’s Education Division in ensuring that countries formulate and enact a National Book and Reading Policy that is implementable in collaboration with the National Book Development Councils, fully funded by respective African governments and to devise ways to sensitise African governments on the need to support the book publishing industries towards meeting the national development goals.

National Book and Reading Policies are at the core of educational quality, literacy development, lifelong learning and sustainable development. Without access to a wide range of relevant books and reading materials, especially those in national languages, literacy skill, which are the basis for lifelong learning, cannot be developed and sustained. The role of Ministries of Education (MoE) [and of Culture] is critical in the quest for creating a reading culture in schools, which is essential for encouraging students’ engagement and motivation as lifelong readers. The stakeholders who attended this seminar-workshop included renowned experts (writers, publishers, Ministry of Education’s representatives, educational researchers, major education NGOs, and relevant regional and international organisations, from the following countries, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

During the workshop, ADEA and USAID signed an agreement to support the AU Draft Continental Book and Reading Policy Framework, which provides a roadmap for African member countries to formulate National Book and Reading Policies that will enable each country to address the various challenges facing the book publishing industry, a key factor for the achievement of quality education for economic, social and cultural development. Each country was called upon to take the lead in putting in place (implementing) the policies. In support of the Framework, the African Union Commission launched the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA) African Reading Culture Cluster.

The four-day workshop in Nairobi discussed, reviewed and agreed on a framework for all MoEs in African member countries of the African Union to take steps necessary for the enactment of a bill that will establish a Book Law or a National Book Development Council with executive powers with full support of national authorities. The workshop also came up with resolutions that will guide MoEs in formulating and enacting their National Book and Reading Policies as a matter of priority.

These two seminars/workshops are the two sides of the same coin, but they are also the areas of veritable conflicts of interests if proper care is not taken to implement their outcomes. The first IPA/KPA seminar was all about the business of publishing, Copyright and gaining existing emerging markets in Africa and the second ADEA/USAID workshop concentrated on policy matters that will enable African governments to appropriate endogenous publishing by enacting Book Laws in their respective countries that will regulate and sustain book sector activities as priority sectors of government and generate more revenues to the national economy. However, from the look of things, these juicy African markets are usually the preserves of international book companies, while the indigenous African publishers are left to leak their toils.

Given this strategic role of the book sector, therefore, “it is incumbent for every nation to ensure that all stakeholders’ roles with the industry are recognised, developed and nurtured” for the benefit of all and for a win-win situation to subsist. For this to prevail, it would be to the behest of the IPA and other international partners (donors) to recognise and support the efforts of African governments to put in place veritable structures to develop the book sector through this African Union Framework initiative. Otherwise, all these beautiful outcomes will be only an exercise in futility, taking us another circle of many years to be masters of our own destinies.

I was fortunate to have been an eye witness to these landmark twin events in Nairobi, Kenya, to crown my long years in active publishing, as publisher, bookseller and distributors, book development practitioner and lecturer at university level in these matters. Apart from one or two of the other Landmark events of previous decades, I witnessed and/or took part in most of the discussions that brought about their creation since the 1970s. My wish and prayer is to see the sprouting of National Book Development Councils in every African country executing well conceived and implementable National Book Policies for the betterment of the book sectors in Africa and the world at large, coordinated by a Pan-African Book Development Centre.

African Publishing Column IPA Seminar Buma Kor Publishers & Books

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