Bellagio Publishing Network  

BPN Newsletter Issue No 23, October 1998 


Books and children: the 1998 Indaba at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair

We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Djibril Faye, APNET representative for Senegal, in October. We publish below an article he wrote on his visit to the 1998 Zimbabwe International Book Fair, completed shortly before his death.

Djibril Faye

Djibril Faye was Directeur Commercial, Nouvelles Editions Africaines du Senegal, BP 260, Dakar, Senegal. Tel +221 821 1381, +221 822 1580, fax +221 822 3604

Translated from the French by Rachel Wiggans

The 1998 Indaba, the inaugural event of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, took place in Harare, 1-3 August, on the theme of `books and children'. This gathering (indaba means meeting and discussion in Shona), organised each year by ZIBF in partnership with other African and foreign organisations, assembled over 400 book professionals from 40 countries in five continents and included decision-makers (governments, international organisations, NGOs), publishers, authors, booksellers, librarians and others.

The main theme, books and children, was split into the four sub-themes of `policy', `children's literature', `scholarship and research', and `access and technology', each handled by a working group. There were also several plenary sessions.

Professor Ali Mazrui gave the inaugural speech on the subject of `Fewer heroes and more martyrs in Africa's post- colonial experience: implications for the African child'.

Given the huge number of papers and the range of sub-themes it would be risky as well as difficult to provide a comprehensive report of the proceedings in the few words allowed here. Instead I have chosen to highlight one of the key themes by evaluating publishing for children in Africa and its prospects for development.

Evaluating publishing for children in Africa

The different contributions make it clear that, until the beginning of the 1990s, production of books for young people was weak or nonexistent in some countries. Since 1987 we have witnessed spectacular growth in children's publishing, in both European and African languages. In Kenya, for example, the production of books for young people from one publisher leapt from five titles in 1988 to 127 in 1998. One study showed that in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria production has notably increased in the last ten years. Reports from publishers' associations elsewhere show the same rise. At the same time as the growth in the number of titles, there is a significant increase in print-runs, on average 3000-5000 copies per title. Books are often reprinted.

There are various reasons for this progress:
1. The creativity of African publishers has enabled them to produce well-made children's books in terms of content, production quality and price.
2. State purchase of books for schools and libraries continues to increase.
3. Development agencies, international organisations and NGOs provide appreciable support to both publishing and book acquisition.
4. The efforts publishers are making to promote their books nationally, within Africa or internationally, either individually or through their national associations, are resulting in a noticeable increase in sales.
5. Co-operation between publishers and distributors has enabled them to develop export sales.

Nonetheless there remain difficulties:

  • There are wide differences between countries. The situation in countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania is very much better than that in other countries in their regions. In francophone West Africa Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Mali and Togo stand out clearly.
  • It is not always easy to find good authors and illustrators for children's books in Africa.
  • Readership is not sufficiently developed, given the level of illiteracy, and the lack of a reading habit in Africa.
  • Even where a readership exists, its purchasing power is limited; books are not as high a priority as basic needs.
  • The library network is not developed, especially in rural areas.
  • The distribution network is not developed.

Prospects for the development of publishing for children in Africa

The future of the publishing sector in Africa can be viewed with some optimism providing that certain strategies are developed.

Reasons for optimism:

  • General books for children, unlike school books, are more under the control of African publishers in terms of publishing, financing and technical decisions.
  • Children's books constitute an inexhaustible mine for publishers, unlike textbooks whose production involves more constraints.
  • The Africanisation of publishing is happening at the same time as the development of children's publishing.
  • Over 60 per cent of the readership in Africa is made up of young people. In Nigeria, for example, the school population aged between 6 and 18 is estimated at 20 million, making up over 75 per cent of the market.
  • The structure of African publishing is becoming more professional.
  • The battle for the development of publishing in Africa will be won or lost in the field of children's books. African publishers are perfectly aware of this.

Strategies to develop:

  • Establish national book policies which can benefit the production of books in general and children's books in particular.
  • Undertake campaigns to encourage reading.
  • Develop distribution networks.
  • Develop library networks.
  • Run an active campaign promoting African books nationally, across Africa and internationally.
  • Ensure that everyone active in the book chain is well trained.
  • Encourage collaboration at every level: within country, south-south and south-north.

The Indaba afforded very little place for three other African linguistic players - the francophone, lusophone and arabophone countries - in terms both of presenting their publishing experiences and of using their languages as working languages for the meeting. Considering the number of these countries, their population and their publishing weight, this gap should be filled for future meetings. In the meantime, the situation can be corrected in part by making available the Indaba papers, or a précis of them, in two or three languages.

With this one reservation it must be acknowledged that the number of countries and participants in Harare, the quality of work that takes place, and the good practical organisation of the meeting, make the Indaba a professional international event and an opportunity for extremely useful exchanges for all participants. The Indaba on its own well justifies the journey to Harare. It gives a real identity to the International Book Fair in Harare in comparison with other book fairs around the world. It is also the high point of the fair.

Indaba 98 Books and Children, ZIBF Trust, ISBN 0-7974-1925-X, containing papers from the 1998 Indaba, is available from ZIBF Head Office, PO Box CY 1179, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe. Fax +263 4 702129, e-mail: or from the African Books Collective. [end] [BPN, no 23, 1998, pp 5-6.]

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