Bellagio Publishing Network  

BPN Newsletter Issue No 20, Autumn 1997 

 
 

Global Knowledge 97

Chief Victor Nwankwo

Chief Victor Nwankwo is managing director of Fourth Dimension Publishing Company, 16 Fifth Avenue, City Layout, PMB 01164, Enugu, Nigeria. Tel: +234 42 459969/256550; fax: +234 42 453298/254811; e-mail: nwankwo@infoweb.abs.net

Global Knowledge 97, hosted in Toronto, Canada 22-25 June 1997 by the World Bank and the Government of Canada, was organised to `explore the vital role that knowledge, information and technology will play in broad based economic growth and social development in the next century'. It sought to demonstrate new means and opportunities to integrate the countries of Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America into the global economy and to achieve sustainable improvement in productivity and the quality of life worldwide.

Originally planned for no more that 1,500 participants, there were over 2,000 from 140 countries. 500 participants came from developing countries. The conference opened in an evening plenary session addressed by Romeo LeBlanc, Canadian Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, and Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General. In welcoming participants to the conference, Romeo LeBlanc compared the growing information highway to the great Canadian railroad of a century ago, in its role in the development of Canadian society. GK97, he said, is part of an ongoing voyage of discovery and dialogue on the global information society.

Kofi Annan stressed the power of knowledge, the liberation of information and promise of progress which education constitutes for every society. He said the participants shared a common concern about the plight of poverty and the conviction that it should be reversed. Democracy is a process, rather than an event, and sustained and defended by institutions and an informed citizenry. He emphasised that the explosion in the number of non-governmental organisations and private groups has fundamentally transformed work in development.

On Monday 23 June the delegates convened in plenary sessions on the Global Knowledge Agenda, Investing in Knowledge and Investing in Knowledge Infrastructure. Speakers at the plenary session on the Global Knowledge Agenda were Diane Marleau, Canadian Minister for International Co-operation and Minister responsible for Francophonie, James Wolfensohn, Jose Maria Figueres, President of Costa Rica, and Yoweri K. Museveni, President of Uganda. Museveni said that in the past humans had been oppressed by both nature and fellow humans. While oppression by the former had been overcome by the aid of science and technology, only universalisation of knowledge can create equilibrium by discouraging those who are inclined to use power from knowledge to oppress others.

The plenary session on Investing in Knowledge was chaired by Maurice Strong, special adviser to the UN Secretary-General. Other speakers were Joy Malé, Administrator, Mengo Senior School, Kampala, Uganda; Joseph E. Stiglitz, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank; John Manley, Canadian Minister of Industry and Fawzi Al-Sultan, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD.

There were further plenary sessions on Tuesday 24 June: Knowledge for Good Governance, and Global Knowledge and Local Culture. Lloyd Axworthy, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the fortification of civil society and the empowerment of citizens are crucial to democracy; and information can aid this. There is need therefore for information technology to work for the people. He stressed the urgent need to create policy frameworks to shape technology to avoid the dark side of the information revolution. The last two plenary sessions for the final day were fittingly titled: The Challenges Ahead and Partners for the Future.

Common themes of the plenary session were: knowledge is power, and information liberates, hence the vital role of knowledge, information and technology in broad-based economic growth and social development in the next century; the universalisation of knowledge will not only confront the scourge of poverty but will also create equilibrium by discouraging the abuse of power from knowledge; investment in knowledge represents a commitment to people and a better future for all. Therefore the success of universalisation of knowledge depends on partnerships and people.

The APNET panel: Partnerships for Knowledge

Between the plenary sessions delegates met in about 120 working sessions on a variety of areas of focus. The panel discussion on publishing, titled `the African Publishers Network: Partnership for Knowledge', was co-ordinated by Diana Newton-Smith of the International Publishing Partnership, Canada. The panel was chaired by Philip Cohen, book publishing consultant. The other panelists were Chief Victor Nwankwo, (then) APNET chairman; Diana Newton-Smith; Dirk Koehler, Publisher, Office of the Publisher at the World Bank; and Bob Osborne, Managing Director of Heinemann UK.

In his introduction Philip Cohen said the panelists would be examining the role of publisher as a part of the global knowledge network. Emphasis would be on textbooks because at this stage of African publishing textbooks still predominate in terms of volume of operations and more importantly, turnover.

Chief Nwankwo gave a brief outline of APNET's history, vision, mission, structure and operations. APNET believes that in the absence of efficient states, elitism and corruption tend to prevail. These can be subverted by the exchange of information and knowledge. APNET's vision is therefore to transform African peoples through access to books. Its mission is to strengthen African publishers and national publishers associations through networking, training and trade promotion.

Bob Osborne said that in their operations in African countries multinational publishers seek partnership with African publishers in which they combined their technology, expertise and financial resources with the special knowledge of the latter. Chief Nwankwo responded that while that was true in some cases, it was not in many others. The situation, he said, varies from one African country to another. He cited the example of Francophone African countries where French publishers have not developed local publishing but have continued to dominate publishing in their former colonies. Genuine partnerships, he said, was the issue here.

Diana Newton-Smith agreed that Francophone Africa was the worst example of unequal partnership. She cited the International Publishing Partnership, whose objective is capacity building for the African publisher in partnership with a Canadian publisher. Dirk Koehler stressed the potential contribution of the Office of the Publisher at the World Bank in publishing generally.

To Philip Cohen's question, `Is there a market in Africa for books?', Bob Osborne replied that a market must exist for a multinational publisher to be reasonably expected to invest in developing publishing in a country. Chief Nwankwo added that the lack of a market was no reason for not investing in publishing development in Africa since there is always a potential market. It is often availability that stimulates the market and a lot depends on who is paying for the books. He cited the case of the World Bank which in sheer monetary size of its book procurement projects, has dominated the book world in Africa in the past few years. He said that in these projects the African government, being the borrower, is the payer for the books and therefore has the responsibility to view the success of the programme from its long-term perspective.

Dirk Koehler pointed out that often it is the borrower who insists on a short-term scale because of a political agenda for the project. Diana Newton-Smith however expressed the view that short-term needs should not be allowed to prevent long-term perspectives. Chief Nwankwo stressed that any book procurement programme in any African country must be imaginatively configured to respond to the challenge to encourage partnerships that meet today's book needs and at the same time build the local capacity for long-term sustainability.

At this point Philip Cohen wanted to know in what way short timescales affected successful implementation of the World Bank book procurement programmes. Bob Osborne said it was no problem for them as they could achieved quick development because they had the capacity. At this Chief Nwankwo observed that, because the national government is a key stakeholder in education, state officials should be but are not always knowledgeable about their proper roles to build national publishing capacity through book procurement programmes. He stressed the role of APNET in training publishers and national publishers associations in policy analysis and advocacy skills for proper liaison with their governments.

There were lively interventions from the floor to which panelists responded. A participant from Asia asked how we can talk about the internet when we don't even have electricity? Chief Nwankwo replied that some people have electricity and e-mail and do browse the internet in Africa even today, and that should be the beginning. [end] [BPN, no 20, 1997, p. 12-13]

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