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BPN Newsletter Issue No 20, Autumn 1997 


APNET Seminar on Scholarly Publishing in Africa

Agnes Katama

Agnes Katama is a media specialist and manager of ICIPE Science Press, Nairobi, Kenya. Address: P.O. Box 947, Kampala, Uganda. Tel./Fax: +256 41 346730; e-mail:

Scholarly publishing in Africa is beset with titanic problems including a dearth of expertise, marketing difficulties, distribution costs and, most importantly, the lack of an appropriate forum to voice concerns, share experiences and learn from more successful enterprises all over the world.

During the first Ghana International Book Fair in November 1996, APNET hosted a seminar, in conjunction with the Ghana Book Publishers Association, to serve as a first step in the correct identification of the problems faced by publishing houses that publish books mainly for universities and other tertiary-level readers.

The setting was superb: sunny Accra where the impressive University of Legon stands as a monument to African academia dating back to the earlier part of this century. This university's very structure is provocative: in a continent stifled by lack of resources, it presents testimony of human and financial investment in Africa by Africans and gives rise to the troubling question; why could we previously build institutions unaided and now fail even in the provision of publications and reading materials for libraries? This then was perhaps the most central of all considerations as participants milled around the Toyota Hall of the Kwame Nkrumah Trade Centre. Indeed, scholarly publishing in Africa is becoming increasingly characterised by the inherent need of significant funding at all levels from the northern countries.

Over the two days the participants discussed papers presented by a panel of eight speakers. Tade Akin Akin[Aina] argued in a provocative presentation that philosophical attitudes need to change if the desired goal of self-sufficiency is to be attained. Agnes Katama presented a triple-faceted press as a successful model in the area of scholarly publishing. The Ghana University Press provided some lessons on the role of the UK-based African Books Collective (ABC) in the life of the Press and the heavy readership dependence the African publishing house has on the northern buyer. The role of the ABC, and its relationship with virtually all the publishing houses represented, was highlighted, since the marketing of publications is the crux of the difficulties faced.

A critical issue was the low readership level registered on the continent, if book sales are a reliable criterion. The lack of resources within the universities makes an already difficult publishing arena impossibly difficult.

The meeting enabled the discussion of the main constraints on scholarly publishers, including limited market segments, lack of expertise, limited resources, and dependence on donor agencies for the successful completion of publishing ventures. The opportunity in Accra to meet and talk to others concerned with African publishing added value to the whole. [end] [BPN, no 20, 1997, p. 9]

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