Bellagio Publishing Network  

BPN Newsletter Issue No 23, October 1998 


Editorial: Publishing as a cultural industry

Publishing is a strategic industry in the development of the African continent. Without books, active literacy is well-nigh impossible. Illiteracy blocks education. Lack of education stands in the way of development. This Network exists to help strengthen book publishing by Africans in Africa, as part of the development agenda.

Books are educational tools, and we have always supported African publishers' efforts to gain a greater share of the textbook market. APNET have long been working on their members' behalf to get a look-in on the World Bank's tenders for textbook provision. APNET works closely with the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), which in turn participates in the Bellagio Publishing Network. Most of APNET's on-going training, studies and seminars on African publishing, supported by the Bellagio Group of donors, are geared to educational publishing. African children need African books.

Books are also cultural products. Now at last, thanks to years of work supported by UNESCO and numerous other local, regional and international bodies, policy-makers have begun to recognise that culture is as much a key to development as economics or agriculture, and that cultural industries belong to the development process as much as manufacturing or service industries.

Books are cultural in themselves. You can often recognise the provenance of a book from its appearance. They are also the enduring records of other cultural activities. Art books, music books, museum catalogues, poetry, plays, all manner of cultural happenings can be recorded and published in book form as records and to reach a wider audience.

In 1995 the Bellagio Group of donors began exploring together ways of supporting, or improving their existing support for a number of cultural industries and activities. They met in the Rockefeller Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy, with African cultural experts including publishers. Then all went quiet for a while, though several of the connections made between publishing and other branches of culture bore fruit, such as music publishing in Ghana.

This year, the focus of our work began to shift significantly. The Bellagio Publishing Network secretariat was invited to work with UNESCO and the OAU to help organise the pan-African consultation on African cultural policies, held in Lomé in preparation for the UNESCO Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies that took place in Stockholm in April. We then organised the agora on `Visions of African Cultural Co-operation and Development' that ran alongside the Stockholm conference. Publishing was firmly on the agenda of both these meetings, together with film, art, dance, museums and more. Since then other meetings on culture have included publishing as central to their agenda, recognising the role of books in cultural development.

Publishing on culture is more of a gamble than textbook publishing, the market is less known and the costs are often high. But it must be done. Cultural publishing on the African continent needs support alongside support for educational publishing. We look forward to a time when it is no longer difficult to buy a book on African art written by Africans and published in Africa, when the best-known African novelists and poets are publishing first in Africa, when African-published books linked to African-produced films are in the bookshops, and when all these books are bought and read by Africans. [end]  [BPN, no 23, 1998, p 4.]

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