Reading Africa: Readers, Libraries and African Publishing
As part of the Reading Africa programme, the Southern African Book Development Education Trust (SABDET) together with the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies (OICPS) held a day conference at Oxford Brookes University on the 30th October 2004. Reading Africa is a nationwide initiative by SABDET to raise awareness in the United Kingdom of African writing and publishing and to promote reading of African books. A promotional campaign aimed at librarians and reading groups and designed to encourage public library users to read African writers is a central part of the programme.
The meeting brought together under one roof distinguished African writers and publishers, and representatives of organisations promoting the initiative in this country. Its purpose was to take stock - Reading Africa in Africa, Reading Africa elsewhere - in an attempt to bring together and highlight the various strands by means of presentation and discussion from different perspectives, those of the publisher, writer, translator and librarian. What ensued was a provocative and lively debate of the issues.
The conference was organised with the following programme:
10.00am Registration and Coffee
10.30am Introduction: Tony Olden
11.00am Session – Chair: Kelvin Smith (OICPS)
Reader Development Andrew Lowing (Essex CC Library
1.30pm Session – Chair: Sue Pandit (OICPS)
Dayo Alabi (The Book Company, Lagos/ABC
2.40pm Short break
2.50pm Session – Chair: Mpalive Msiska (Birkbeck)
4.00pm Tea or Coffee
4.15pm Session – Chair: Paul Westlake (SABDET)
5.00pm Summary and the future
5.30pm Conference close and Reception
This report of the proceedings, written by Pru Watts-Russell as Rapporteur who has, where possible, consulted the participants on the final text, has been organised thematically. Brief biographical notes on all the participants are included at the end of the report.
Keynote Address: Véronique Tadjo (Writer)
The tone of the meeting was set by Véronique Tadjo. When reflecting on the conference theme, she said she had been mindful of the fact that the United Nations had proclaimed 2003-2012 the Literacy Decade. Posing the question: Why so much emphasis on literacy? Her answer: Because it is considered the bedrock of education and education is a fundamental human right.
Whilst speech helps us to communicate, reading and writing play an essential role in the development of humankind, impacting on social, political, economic development of nations. Books contribute to the transmission of knowledge, a knowledge which is intellectual, emotional and practical. There are books for all ages and all times in an extraordinary variety of genres and they remain the most accessible and cheapest means of communication around. Literacy provides the means of raising standards of living, is crucial to the capacity building process and acts as a social leveler.
The reversal in gender discrimination in Africa has been attributed to the increase in literacy. The emergence of women writers on the literary scene reflected this trend, taking a generation (from the 60’s that mark independence and the opening of girls’ schools to the 80’s) for access to education to produce more women writers.
There is evidence too that where people are better educated, they have better health (i.e. are less likely to have HIV/AIDS), greater political awareness, a greater understanding of their rights and an increased ability to grasp concepts. That is to say literacy has a qualitative impact on democracy and citizenship. Language literacy is indeed the key to other forms of high-profile literacy such as computer and maths literacy. Better literacy means that the learner’s performance in all other learning areas improves dramatically.
However, literacy for all is not everything. It will not produce utopia. Highly educated people have been responsible for atrocities, Rwanda being a case in point. Although here perhaps it might be argued their destructive influence over masses might have been less had the masses been more literate. Democracy is a state of mind, a way of looking at the world. It is not necessarily linked with education. This is where literature has such a big role to play. The hope is not just for literacy but for a continent of readers. Africans should enjoy literature and seek the company of books!
She argued that it is not true to say that there is no culture of reading in Africa. When given the chance Africans are avid readers. Bookshops and libraries are often visited and books fairs opened to the public are generally well attended. In spite of the high prices of books, most parents are ready to make sacrifices for their children. Books are seen as objects of value. A book is not read by just one but by many, passed around between friends and relatives. Meeting needs and satiating demand requires innovative approaches by all concerned. Booksellers, publishers, librarians all have a duty to get books to potential readers. Novel means of increasing their availability, such as kiosks, markets, food outlets, should be fully explored. In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, books are sold on the pavement by street vendors at traffic lights in the same way as they hawk sunglasses, boxes of tissues and watches; thrusting books into cars even her own.
Responsibility for creating a population of readers should not rest with private enterprise or donors alone however; a greater involvement is called for by the state. Bigger budgets, improved libraries in schools colleges and universities, and public libraries, should be seen as an investment in future. Classroom libraries hold the key to developing a true readership. Conventional bookshops too have a role to play. Unfortunately, African bookshops hit by the global economic crisis are in decline. The devaluation of the CFA franc in French speaking Africa, for example, and political unrest have all had an effect. Regardless of economic constraints, they should nevertheless be geared more to meeting the needs of the young who comprise over 50% of the population in the developing world. The awareness of books for pleasure should be inculcated at early age, to fire the imagination and to entertain; to counterbalance the tendency for books to be associated only with academic learning. Even if not all writing is progressive or thought provoking, it is generally accepted that literature broadens the mind and offers a vision of the life that is diverse and enriching. Virtually any subject under the sun has been dealt with in books. Readers can dream, learn, trigger their imagination, and keep themselves entertained. Children who like reading will never get bored.
The future of African literature as a whole is in the hands of African readers. They are the ones who are going to support it and give it its weight. African literature, if it is to find its way on the bookshelves of the West, paradoxically, must first be put on the bookshelves of Africa.
The relationship between African publishers and African authors should be one of real collaboration and equal partnership and respect. At the moment, it is still not rare to find writers who have not been paid their royalties, whose manuscripts have been mislaid or whose works have been published without their final go ahead. If the trend continues, Africa will lose a lot of talent to foreign publishers.
have a new commitment to fulfil: to produce a literature anchored in
African tradition while at the same time dealing with the paradoxes
and challenges of the times. A literature that bridges the tensions
wrought by religious, tribal, social, ideological, or political extremism
and celebrates diversity. In Africa, “Art (and literature by extension)
is and always was at the service of man” Chinua Achebe reminds
us before adding, “Our ancestors created their myths and told
their stories for a human purpose. For this reason, any good story,
any good novel should have a message, should have a purpose. It is the
duty and the challenge of the African writer to continue telling the
multifaceted story of Africa as it unfolds.” How better to
conclude than with one of her poems which says it all:
Come play with me
I write for memory
I knock at the door
Who am I?
I read to conquer my lost Kingdom,
Towards an unknown reality
I draw to create
I draw to recover
I write, I read, and I draw
Andrew Lowing: provided
an insight into the British experience of African writing promotion
as operating in an English county library service, and in particular
the reader development function aspect within the context of Reading
Africa. Essex in comparison to many other counties has a low distribution
of ethnic communities. Because of this a decision was made to centre
Reading Africa initially in the two towns where the ethnic population/community
in Essex is most highly concentrated i.e. Basildon, where the books
have been on prominent display adjacent to a recently revamped area,
and Harlow. Essex has led the way in reading groups. These now total
270 in its 72 libraries, every library having at least one group, with
the two selected towns sharing 13 between them. The response to the
initiative, where the challenge has been to get people to read books
not heard of, read about places and people with which they are unfamiliar
and inspire readers to read something which is a bit different, has
The library is especially keen to work with the Afro Centre, a local organisation, where efforts have been made to set up a reading group. It has met a few times but not yet on a regular basis. Enthusiasm will be vital for its success. The Essex Literary Festival has been running annually since 2000. Fifty-seven writers and poets participated this year and Ben Okri is among those who are expected to take part in March 2005.
Reading Africa: Readers and Libraries in Africa
Tony Olden: The majority of public libraries in Africa now charge membership fees and may not therefore in the UK/American sense strictly speaking be regarded as ‘public’ libraries. Most library services ie Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia were established on a national, rather than local basis in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Nigeria being the exception. Even today getting books beyond the urban areas remains a perennial problem.
Chakava: Library Boards were a mistake. Library systems would have done better were they to have evolved from community needs. Today often book weeks or national book tents play a more important role than libraries.
Tony Olden: Conditions of employment are often unattractive (on a recent visit to Zambia he had found that library staff had not received their pay for three months) and difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff persist. Traditional sources of funding have been limited. New solutions are being sought. Tanzanian Library Service (TLS), for example, has in recent years joined forces with private enterprise. This company has used its funds to renovate the TLS headquarters, a building that had become very run down, increased it by two floors and is renting out the extra space as offices. In due course the whole building will revert back to TLS.
Still many public libraries have few African books on their shelves. What, he asked, might be done about this?
African Books in African Libraries: Solutions offered from the floor
Alabi:The Nigerian government is addressing the situation with a new initiative, the Education Tax Fund (ETF). Every limited liability company in Nigeria pays 2% of annual turnover as a special education tax to ETF. ETF then uses the money from this fund to intervene in various aspects of the education, some of which is finding its way into the 18 Federal Government libraries in 18 out of the 36 states, Federal and State Universities, polytechnic and college libraries. Although the Nigerian situation is unique, the scheme has the potential for adoption elsewhere.
Terence Ranger: Weaver Press in Zimbabwe is being subsidised to the tune of £5 per book in return for which a quarter of each print run is presented to libraries.
Sara Harrity: Under Book Aid International (BAI)’s Reverse Book Club Scheme a £5 donation each month pays for four books to reach readers in the developing world. Its Local Book Purchase Scheme also enables books in local languages to reach the shelves of rural community libraries.
Mary Jay: The Intra-African Book Support Scheme (IABSS) has been a unique book donation project, developed both to provide a wide range of African libraries and institutions with African published book - mainly fiction and children’s books, and to support African publishing.
Tony Olden: Continuing his presentation he said he wished to highlight, it being of particular concern to him at the moment, the dire state of libraries and publishing in Somalia. Visits that he had made to that country under auspices of Africa Education Trust (AET) had revealed the country, due to the civil war, to have very little in the way of libraries apart (from those in the 2 new universities) and little published in the Somali language. Whilst AET is itself publishing a number of primers for basic literacy aimed at young people in schools and illiterate adults in the Somali language and is in the process of setting up a number of reading rooms, much remains to be done. Less than 20% of children get any education. How can the people of Somalia benefit from developments elsewhere. Are there lessons to be learnt from the publishing and library communities in East Africa? Advice, perhaps from publishers on indigenous language publishing, and feedback from librarians on use of reading rooms set up in the region in the early days of their own library development would be welcome.
Reading Africa: Impact for
Mary Jay: equated the role of African Books Collective (ABC) with that of the ABC publishers’ marketing department. It was in this capacity she was now speaking, allied with the ABC institutional interest. The ABC perspective in promoting the reading of African literature was to promote books published in Africa, emanating from African culture. It was that literature ABC was supporting. She said that the promotion of African literary writing in conjunction with public libraries was a splendid idea. However, more generally, a weak market for African books and library budget cuts between them impacted on the success of selling African literature.
African literature was a very wide term. Was it African literature or individual countries' literature? There were also issues about what constitutes a novel. European perceptions of what is a “novel” were based, in the UK, on the English 19th century novel; whereas African novels originated from a very different provenance – they were from within the African culture, and tended to carry an overt message. This militated against easy access for non-African readers. Why African literature is not widely read in the mainstream was a fundamental issue and one which needed to be addressed.
ABC was seeking to “brand” its product, to gain access to the mainstream. Talking about the UK market, this was far from easy, but there were a number of factors which helped branding, which was necessary for distribution rather than for co-publications. For example The Da Vinci Code had apparently sold very little in the UK when it was distributed by its US publisher; but when it went into co-publication, it hit the bestseller lists. There was no doubt that, currently, novels will largely only sell well if they have a British publisher.
Ken Saro Wiwa’s Forest of Flowers was on the ABC list for a long time, was widely promoted, and cited in The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and yet did not sell particularly well. The author then sold the rights to Longmans, and they launched it as a new title, attracting great interest and reviews in the mainstream press (perhaps aided in part by the fact that it coincided with Saro Wiwa’s imprisonment and subsequent execution).
Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, published by Viking/Fourth Estate, had received widespread recognition through being shortlisted for The Orange Prize (for women’s writing). The book was subsequently on the longlist of the Booker Prize, and the author was interviewed on a mainstream BBC television news programme. The combination of a British publisher and recognition through the prizes had got the novel into the mainstream.
Earlier in 2004, ABC had sponsored a tour by the Ghanaian writer, Amma Darko, including an event where she was a speaker at the Oxford Literary Festival, for which Blackwells Bookshop handled book sales. It was very difficult, indeed well nigh impossible, in normal circumstances to get African-published novels into mainstream bookshops. However, following the Festival, Amma Darko’s new novel, published in Ghana, was displayed face out in the main literature section at Blackwells – a first for an ABC novel. So although this novel did not have a British publisher, nor had it received prize recognition, it did have the distinguishing extra feature of having been promoted at a UK literary festival.
An African-published novel is generally in need of some extra push to lift it above low sales; and recognition by major Awards was one key.
Whilst welcoming the SABDET Reading Africa programme as a building block initiative, ABC would have liked to see more works selected which were published in Africa, and more African publishers benefiting: only four of the 30 titles promoted were published in Africa. ABC had of course bid for all 30! The titles selected were from Kenya (2) and Zimbabwe (2). Since two of these titles were out of stock in Africa, ABC had made them available by print-on-demand. It was estimated that, broadly speaking, sales for the four titles had increased by between three and five fold through the Reading Africa initiative.
Africa’s 100 Best Books list and the Reading Africa initiative contributed to this necessary raising of the profile of African literature as an integral part of world literature – as much South African literature was already so considered. They were promoting writing, not publishing in Africa as such, but the two were links in the same struggle. Analysis of the list showed that of the 100 titles, 65 were published outside Africa; and of the remaining 35, 11 had been published in South Africa, and 5 in Nigeria. Of the authors, 83 were men, and only 17 women; and 88 of the 100 titles were in the European languages.
Bgoya: He admitted that he was not a fan of the 100 Best Books perceiving it to be full of serious contradictions, highlighted by the fact that the majority were published out of Africa and were not in African languages.
wa Goro: Whilst she agreed the I00 Best Books list is contentious and the selection process had been flawed, she like other members of the jury collectively felt that the idea in principle had been good and should be seen as start to and not the end of the debate.
Ranger: Indeed Zimbabwe has since launched Zimbabwe’s Best Books in 2003 and has initiated Africa’s 50 Best Female Authors project, the results of which are to be announced during ZIBF 2005.
Melanie Abrahams (Renaissance One): Although the Reading Africa list also has its weaknesses, its value as a marketing tools and starting point should likewise be recognised.
James Currey: He said that even in the later days the Heinemann AWS titles continued to attract good sales and Lis Burch (Harcourt Educational International) confirmed this trend continues today under the current publisher.
Ranger: It is possible for an African writer to have a bestseller. For example, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga had sold over 40,000 copies in the USA and was among the best novels of 20th century.
Tadjo: Many people's perception of Africa is negative due to the media, this leads to the marginalisation of the continent.
African Publishers Take on
African Literature – Panel Discussion
Dayo Alabi: Nigerian literature is based on heritage, culture and tradition wherever it is written; be it in or out of the country. Earlier writers reacted against white colonialism. They only had their works published on the whim of publishers. It has been said that literature in Africa is on the decline; this being due to such factors as: dwindling interest in reading, lack of indigenous languages material, poor quality of writing, difficulty in getting manuscripts accepted. Books written by Nigerian and other African authors elsewhere are often not available in Africa. Efforts to rectify these trends are already being taken and must continue. A conducive environment must be nurtured. Young writers should be encouraged by such means as annual writing competitions for children and awards possibly ‘Best Book of the Year’ initiated.
Akoss Ofori-Mensah: African literature is not something that has been given much prominence in world; even in African schools and other institutions the emphasis for a long time had been on European literature. In the early days there was no recognition that education systems should emphasise their own culture; nor was it generally appreciated what African literature was all about. A view reinforced by the experience of fellow publishers.
Henry Chakava: When he started reading, he read English books, was taught by English teachers, and was given English books to read (including the classics) through all stages of his education right up to and including university level.
Akoss Ofori-Mensah: Only with the advent of Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart and the writings of many other African authors in the Heinemann African Writers Series (AWS) did this change. It was only then that African literature found its way not only into the literature curriculum of African universities but was also accepted into mainstream literature and the forums of higher education elsewhere. African writers have often not been interested in publishing locally, feeling it to be more acceptable and that they would achieve greater recognition by publishing in the west. African countries have not always valued their own literature as much as they ought or promoted it across borders.
Henry Chakava: When working with Heinemann in Nairobi he had received manuscripts for inclusion in AWS. The books, although published in the UK were written for Africans, and widely read by them. On occasion manuscripts were submitted which he felt to have value but Heinemann chose not publish. This encouraged him along with another publisher, Bob Malcolm, to start up the Tinga Tinga Press which took on such titles albeit not in commercial quantities. Ever since his overriding philosophy, he said has been to concentrate on the home market first and foremost. Publishing for external markets has not taken high priority. His aim has been to publish for his own people, publish what they want to read; and then and only then to consider widening his titles’ acceptability, increasing the target audience and to look to ways to promote outside the national boundary ie selling rights, translations, co-editions. The manufacture of books has been a weak point of African publishing. Working in partnership with others is a means off addressing this. For those considering starting in publishing he recommended starting with children’s books and story lines. Once a publisher has earned a good name and reputation then its books are likely to sell.
Dayo Alabi: African publishing has suffered from a negative image: poor production quality, paucity of editing, lack of resources, publishers’ unwillingness to take risks. These issues are all now being addressed. A more professional approach is being adopted. There is a general consensus that the quality of books is improving and that they are now being produced to western standards. Marketing until recently did not receive as much attention as it ought; the right targeting, infrastructure, high costs involved all being factors. Although more effort is still required in this direction, publishers are now becoming increasingly aware of its importance and recent years have seen a substantial improvement. It is now not uncommon for publishers to produce catalogues of their lists.
Walter Bgoya: Definition of African literature: that whose content reflects African problems and issues, and which defines African reality. What qualifies? Not all literature coming out of Africa could lay claim to reflect that reality, notably authors such as J M Coetzee. He argued that language should not be an issue. He took a pragmatic view. Writers should just write. If it was any good it did not matter what language it was in. He encouraged potential authors in Tanzania whose English was poor to write in Swahili, since it allowed them to grapple with issues in a real way.
Publishing is a new industry in Africa. The time has come to build upon lessons learned and develop new good practices. Although his company is one of the founding members of the African Books Collective, it should not be necessary for publishers to kowtow to British/American sensibilities or be dependent on them for their survival. They should defend their integrity. Books should be looked at on their merits, not borne on the back of neo-colonial publishing, only considered acceptable when published in the UK. The ABC initiative which allows books, particularly the more expensive titles to be printed on demand, saving on print runs and freight costs is a welcome development.
Chakava: He agreed
that it was a good idea but felt it should not be forced.
No discussions on African literature can escape or would be complete without some controversial debate over language. In which language should African children be taught and therefore read ie English versus indigenous languages. The views proffered at this meeting were no less ambivalent.
Tadjo: Language is an issue. The controversy as to what should be the medium of instruction in schools mother tongue or English; and if the former what exactly is the mother tongue. In South Africa it government policy for children to be schooled in their first language (of which there are 11 national languages) at primary level. This often goes against the wishes of the parents who would prefer English to be the medium of instruction, fearing their children will otherwise be at a disadvantage in later years. Perhaps the route to take is multilingualism from the start. Writers prefer not to get involved, their idealism being tempered with pragmatism.
Chakava:The language issue could be debated endlessly. Proper policies need to be put in place. In Kenya lessons are taught in the indigenous language for 3 years, whilst pupils are taught English, then a switch is made. Literature does not exist in other languages; and the prestige of learning foreign languages needs to be acknowledged as a problem.
Bgoya: Many literate Africans are caused harm by being convinced foreign languages are valuable, local not. They are forced to think own language to be worthless; and look to adopt what cannot be afforded. The fact that there is nobody to teach English in Tanzanian primary schools has given rise to problems right through secondary to tertiary level. It is a matter of the ruling classes imposing on the masses. The crisis goes on. Teachers are teaching in Swahili when exams have to be written in English giving rise to alienation of education.
Writing and Translating African Literature
Véronique Tadjo: Her experience as a translator has been brief. A lecturer in translation in the English Department of the University of Abidjan, she had following a stay in Nigeria translated Elechi Amadi‘s The Great Ponds into French and then ten South African children books for distribution in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere in French speaking Africa. Her experience as a writer on the other hand has been more extensive. Her books have been translated into many other languages from English to Somali This indeed has included working with Wangui wa Goro on the translation of As the Crow flies, a positive collaboration which strengthened their friendship. Giving life to another book in this manner can be both wonderful and a nerve wracking emotion from the writer’s point of view. This is especially true if the title is being translated into an unfamiliar language as there is no way of checking how accurate that translation is. Sometimes it is necessary for authors to translate their own work (Ngugi Gikuyu/ English) but this not often done.
Wangui wa Goro: It was a privilege to be at the conference in the presence of Henry Chakava (recently a recipient of the Life award to African publishing at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair), her mentor. It was to him whom she owed her career when he introduced her to the world of translating by commissioning her to translate Ngugi wa Thiongo’s Njamba Nene Series (EAEP) from Gikuyu, her mother tongue into English. She originally trained in European languages (French and Italian). Translation is not an innocent exercise. Complex issues are involved. The translator is responsible for delivering an authentic voice, needing to accurately interpret and respect the integrity of translation. There is an onus not to misrepresent but the nuances are not always clear. The process requires mediation and negotiation. The standing of translators is not held in high regard and this lack of status has implications for African literature. Very few texts have been translated from Swahili into English or are known to world. She translates, not to make a living, but for the love of it. African Studies is a young area of scholarship.
Chege Githiora: There are now about 60 million speakers of Swahili, a language that is widely recognised as the lingua franca for east and central Africa. Yet in the broader context much remains to be done. For example, very few books of the large existing body of Swahili literature have been translated into English or other major world languages. Much of Swahili literature therefore is unavailable to non-Swahili speakers, with a possible exception of the works of Shabaan bin Robert. Consequently both the promotion of reading in Swahili and their translation into other languages should be taken more seriously. As part of that effort he has authored and published the first ever Diccionario Swahili-Espanol which is aimed at making a linguistic bridge between two major world languages that are culturally and linguistically close with respect to Africa and Latin America. He has also translated and published some of Shaaban bin Robert’s poetry into Spanish
The emphasis within the educational systems of most African countries on English (or French or Portuguese) creates a negative context with many negative results for African languages. Many Africans living in these formerly colonised states are, practically speaking, functionally illiterate in their own languages. This is because they have poor knowledge of the structure of their own languages and this limits their comprehension of its written form. So although many remain proficient native speakers, they experience major difficulties reading and writing in their mother tongue, and many eventually give up. This is in part a result of insufficient and systematic teaching of those languages at every stage of their education. In the current language situation, he claimed, our languages are denied social prestige in the face of dominant European languages which are par excellence the vehicles of upward social mobility. This contributes to a state of ‘psychic disbelief’ in the abilities and possibilities offered by the African languages.
He gave an example of a recent workshop on ‘Gikuyu Orthography’ held at SOAS, where three full days were spent discussing (in Gikuyu) a number of innovations and orthographic issues, a reflection of the complexity of issues facing this and many other African languages. During that workshop, Ngugi described language as a way people have not only of describing the world, but of understanding themselves. This is why he now chooses to write in his first language, Gikuyu. In so doing he ensures that the language is being constantly revaluated whilst at the same time fosters both translation and a reading culture
Dr Githiora noted that a great number of African languages are tonal. This is only one of the many facts of which we should be aware about these languages and what happens when the spoken word is transferred to paper where tone patterns which affect word meaning, stress and intonation patterns are not represented. But this does not by any means imply that African languages should be relegated to oral expression alone. Their unique attributes can be captured in other ways such as through innovative and standardised orthographies. Nor do these facts about our languages devalue the need for African language books. In fact these ought to be complementary, so for example, reading in Africa can be reinforced by this oral culture through the use of the radio. Audio media have been greatly amplified in recent times in Africa with culture, literature, and other genres writing all being widely broadcast to the people.
What of coeditions as a means, like translations, of extending the market?
Tadjo: Coeditions can work. However, whilst the price should be set in the West at what the market can sustain, in Africa books need to be affordable.
Ofori-Mensah: She has successfully published books with South Africa in the past and is now working with UNESCO in Windhoek on an illustrated children’s book.
Chakava: It only
works when two parties exploit the market better than one
Janet Nyeko (JanYEKO Publishing): She successfully published The ABC of Book Publishing: a Training Manual for NGOs in Africa with CTA, thus assuring its high quality.
Reading Africa: Partnerships
Javed Iqbal: outlined the British Council’s position and its commitment to reading centred activities, the stress as with other areas of its work being on mutuality. Africa @21 is just one of many creative reading projects in which the British Council is involved globally. The scheme consists of two components: Out of Africa which focuses on UK writing with a strong African connection and Reading Africa (the SABDET initiative) where the emphasis is on promoting African writing in the UK. Working together it is the intention of the key UK and African stakeholder organisations that readers in both the UK and in Africa should by sharing a common reading experience achieve a greater understanding and insight into each others' cultural perspectives. Using British Council libraries as intermediaries Africa @21 links libraries in six Africa countries (Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zimbabwe), with six library authorities in the UK (Birmingham City, Derbyshire County, Essex County, Glasgow City, London Borough of Lambeth, Blackburn Council).
Although dependent on local circumstances, reader-centred activities include book chains, reading groups, talking about books on the web and video-conferences between readers in Africa and the UK. The use of new technology and online facilities online has been a crucial constituent in bringing reader groups together.
As part of staff development and in order to build up their confidence and skills in this area, British Council Information Managers from 19 countries in Africa received training on using book promotion campaigns to promote reader-centred activities. In Nairobi a Reader Development Officer post has also recently been established.
The British Council www.enCompassCulture web site contains much information including what is involved in setting up reading groups, authors in residence etc.
An evaluation of Africa@21, perceived as an organic development of reader development work in the British Council and Africa, will be carried out in early 2005.
Reading Africa: UK/Africa perspective
Priscilla Baily: Derbyshire has been partnered with Namibia. The aim has been to set up activities and opportunities for readers from both sides of the globe to share their reading experiences. To date it has been very much a joint promotion, a very fruitful partnership. She has worked closely with Patience Mahlalela, British Council Namibia. The aims are fairly modest ie book promotion, reading, entertainment; to work with school librarians and younger readers in particular. A flexible approach has been adopted. She and Patience emailed each other to set things in motion. Although Africa@21 was launched in April with a video conference link set up between British Council office in Windhoek and Alfreton Library in Derbyshire which attracted local press and media attention, there was no rush to get it started. Children’s activities were held in the summer with African story-telling, but not until after the Derbyshire Literary Festival in September have things begun to move. A number of events took place during September and October at Chesterfield and Alfreton Libraries; with Chesterfield working closely with its Namibian twinning group – the Chesterfield Tsumeb Association. These included an event to coincide with One World Week and Black History Month. In Namibia public libraries, schools, and the university library have all been involved.
What has worked? A great relationship
has been built up with Patience, ideas have been shared and the project
has been allowed to grow organically. Aims have been clear. All staff
have been involved and encouraged to try things not tried before e.g.
video conferencing and in the process readership of African books has
Bernie McManamon (Lambeth Library Services): reported that Lambeth’s links with Nigeria had been established and there had already been two successful online discussions linking both.
What is the future?
Paul Westlake: Where should Reading Africa go next? What issues should be taken forward? The programme has involved people at all levels including the engagement of the reader but, defined within a timeframe set by the partners and without guaranteed continuing financial support, will the momentum be maintained?
These were questions he posed in his summing up. Feedback, positive or critical, debates, ideas for the future, all need to be taken into account. 50 sets of the promotion remain. How should these best be used? Should more libraries be encouraged to take up the promotion? Should the literature project be retained at all? Or is it now time to consider new areas?
Africa 2005 is imminent. It will run between February and October next year. Centred in London, the visual arts, music, film and literature will all be primary elements. The British Museum, the Hayward Gallery and BBC are examples of major organisations which are already committed and the Arts Council (a silent partner in and a significant funder of the current Reading Africa programme) has expressed a positive interest in supporting initiatives and programmes which would fit within the Africa 2005 context. Partnerships have been shown to work and perhaps using this event as a focus could be made to do so again.
Biographical notes on the speakers and chairs:
Dayo Alabi is Managing Director of The Book Company, Lagos, Nigeria. The company, established in 2000, is a supplier of local and imported books, a retail bookseller and has a small publishing list with plans for expansion. He was formerly Managing Director of CSS Bookshops in Lagos which is a bookseller and publisher. He was the first Director of the revived Nigerian International Book Fair in 2002.
Priscilla Baily works as Reader/Audience Development Officer for Derbyshire County Council, a post she has held for three and a half years. Her job involves taking a leading role for many reader centred activities across the county including the management of over 80 Book Chat reading groups, running reading promotions/projects and as a member of the Arts Team helping to deliver Derbyshire's biennial Literature Festival. She has previously worked in further education and as Reader in Residence for East Midlands north.
Walter Bgoya is Managing Director of Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania which he established in 1991. He publishes in Kiswahili and English, scholarly, literary and children’s books, within the context of cultural autonomy in Africa. He was previously General Manager of the Tanzania Publishing House for 18 years. He is a founder publisher of ABC and of APNET.
Henry Chakava is Chairman of East African Educational Publishers, Nairobi, Kenya. He was formerly Managing Director of and successfully led the company to full local independence from its previous incarnation as Heinemann Kenya. The company is a major educational publisher in East Africa and has a large list of scholarly, literary and children’s books, in Kiswahili, Gikuyu, and English. He is a founder publisher of ABC and of APNET.
Dr Chege Githiora is a Lecturer in Swahili at SOAS and a graduate of Michigan State University (Linguistics,1999). His academic research and writing is on east African languages and the African Diaspora. Some of his creative writing has appeared in the edited Global Anthology of New Black Literature (John Wiley, 2000), and Kenya's literary journal Kwani?. He is author of the Diccionario swahili-espanol (El Colegio de Mexico, 2002).
Kenyan born Wangui Wa Goro is an academic, social critic, researcher, writer and translator. Her writing includes works of translation, fiction and non-fiction. Her recent non-fiction publication, co-edited with Suki Ali and Kelly Coate, is on Global Feminist Politics: Identities in a Changing World (Routledge 2000). She writes poetry, which she has performed in Africa, Europe and the USA. Her translations include Ngugi wa Thiongo’o’s novel Matigari, and his children’s books in the Njamba Nene series, which she translated from Gikuyu to English (East African Educational Publishers). She is involved in the promotion of translation internationally and has recently completed a doctoral thesis in translation studies, in which she also lectures and writes. She was one of the members of the jury for Africa's 100 Best Books for the 20th Century.
Javed Iqbal has worked with the British Council since 1993. Before taking over responsibility as Regional Information Coordinator for Sub Saharan Africa in August 2003 he worked as Head of British Council Information Services in Poland from 1999-2003 and in Pakistan from 1993-1999. Before joining the British Council he was a University Librarian in Pakistan from the beginning of his career in 1986. He has led a number of library automation projects in Pakistan and Poland and has been a trainer specialising in Library Automation and Customer Care in libraries. His most recent project initiatives include the Africa@21 reader development project in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Mary Jay is head of African Books Collective, the African owned organisation seeking to strengthen indigenous African publishing through cultural activities and marketing and distributing African-published books. Since 1995 she has also been Secretary to the Managing Committee of the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. She previously worked in an African studies publishing house.
Andrew Lowing joined Essex Libraries in March 2003 after receiving his MA in Library and Information Studies from University College London in 2001 and working at the London Business School Library as Serials Librarian. He has been involved in reader development from the outset and now has particular responsibility for promoting African fiction.
Dr Mpalive Msiska is a Malawian academic lecturing in English and Humanities at Birkbeck College, University of London and is Course Director for the MA in National and International Literatures in English (NILE) at the Institute of English Studies, Senate House, University of London. He has previously taught at the Universities of Malawi and Stirling as well as Bath Spa University College. He has published the following books: Wole Soyinka (1998) Writing and Africa (1997) (Co-edited) and The Quiet Chameleon (1992) (Co-authored).
Akoss Ofori-Mensah is Managing Director of Sub-Saharan Publishers, Accra, Ghana. She established the company, having previously worked in Educational Manufacturers publishing house. Her list covers scholarly, literary and children’s books; and she is active in translation rights.
Dr Tony Olden is a senior lecturer in library and information management at Thames Valley University, London. He was on the staff of Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, for eight years. In 2004 he visited Nigeria under the auspices of a School of Oriental and African Studies DFID/British Council link, Namibia for the British Council, and Somalia (Somaliland) for the Africa Educational Trust.
Sue Pandit has been the Director of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies at Oxford Brookes University since 2001. She teaches a range of marketing and management modules on postgraduate and undergraduate publishing programmes as well as delivering publishing training to a growing number of Chinese publishing houses. She joined Oxford Brookes from the London College of Printing where she was responsible for a number of publishing and printing management programmes. Prior to working in Higher Education she held a number of strategic management roles in major UK organisations.
Kelvin Smith is Principal Lecturer in Postgraduate Publishing Studies at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies at Oxford Brookes University. In his publishing career he has worked in sales and marketing in the UK and USA for publishers specialising in STM, reference, niche non-fiction publications and development publications. He has been involved with book trade issues in Africa for many years. He runs the MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes and teaches marketing, product development and business finance courses.
Véronique Tadjo is a poet, author, illustrator and painter from the Ivory Coast. Born in Paris, she grew up in Abidjan where she earned a BA in English. Her doctorate in African American literature and civilization is from the Sorbonne, Paris. In 1983 she was a Fulbright research scholar at Howard University, Washington D.C., and she lectured in English at the University of Abidjan until 1993 when she took up writing full time. She was a judge for The Caine Prize for African writing in 2000 and 2001 and has been a facilitator for their writing workshops. She has won the Literary Prize of L'Agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique in 1983 for her book of poetry Latérite and the UNICEF Prize in 1993. She has lived in Paris, Lagos, Mexico City, Nairobi and, until recently, London. She is now based in Johannesburg, South Africa with her husband and children.
Paul Westlake is the Director of SABDET. He is also Chair of Troika which provides sales and marketing services for independent publishers and Chair of the Executive of Panos an NGO which works in the field of communications for development. A founder member of Zed Books cooperative where he worked for 17 years as Financial Director and as Rights Director he has also worked in local economic development.