Bellagio Publishing Network  

BPN Newsletter Issue No 23, October 1998 


Zimbabwe International Book Fair: an exhibitor's perspective

Serah Mwangi

Serah Mwangi is Managing Director, Focus Publications Ltd, PO Box, 28176, Nairobi, Kenya. Fax +254 2 607498, email:

ZIBF '98 was teeming with Kenyan exhibitors. Kenya was making history by becoming ZIBF's first ever country of focus, and Kenyans from every part of the book chain participated in the events on the book fair programme.

From Tuesday, 4 August, the book fair garden was a beehive of activities with over three hundred exhibitors bidding to sell rights of their latest publications to trade and professional visitors from more than fifty countries. In most cases, time was not on their side. They had to contend with workshops, meetings and other interesting activities. This could perhaps explain why some publishers felt they did not do as much `immediate' business as they expected. They were torn between being at their stands when trade visitors showed up, and catching up on the latest world book trends being discussed inside the various hotel conference halls in the Zimbabwean capital. All the same, the exhibitor's stand was always a useful point of reference if only for collecting an enquirer's message.

In line with the Indaba 1998 theme, Books And Children, publishing for children and children's publications were the focus of many events, including the writers' workshop, a workshop on rights-sensitive textbooks held at the British Council Harare office, and a Zimbabwe Library Association seminar: `The Child, the Book, Education and Living'. The British Council took the opportunity offered by the theme to launch an interesting collection of children's stories entitled Voices on children's rights, written by children and published by Focus Publications Ltd, Kenya.

Children's books also featured prominently at the Kenya Pavilion, which was opened by the Deputy High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, His Excellency Mr David Owuor. ZIBF was officially opened on Tuesday, 4 August, with a performance of plays and dancing by Children Performing Workshops, to the cheering book traders.

One very interesting activity was the Marketing Workshop. With participants drawn from all over Africa, Bridget Impey had the time of her life facilitating the third Marketing Skills Workshop. She said she could not remember having a livelier group than this. Charged with formidable marketing energy accumulated over seven days under Bridget's tutelage, these publishers took the exhibition by storm. Chief Joop Berkhout of Spectrum Publishers, Nigeria, could be seen striking deals where only those with fresh marketing skills dared to venture. Even two-year-old publishers like Esther Najjemba of E N Production Centre, Uganda could be heard saying just how successfully she had made use of marketing tips acquired in the Marketing Workshop.

In the same vein, 35 Kenyan children, against all odds, arrived in Harare by road just in time to tell all those who hold power in African countries to `remove those boundaries and let knowledge and books travel' across the continent. The young girls from St George's Primary School, Nairobi were grateful to Kenya Publishers Association and ZIBF organisers for landing them into a haven of books. They had never seen so many children's publications in their life!

Publishers may still be counting their gains (and losses?) out of attending the fair. The outcomes of the various trade deals and discussions will in the end determine the success of ZIBF '98 in the eyes of the exhibitors, trade and professional visitors. One thing is, however, not in doubt: the skills and insights gained in the Indaba and various workshops will come in handy - at least for me and a few friends I had the pleasure of sharing the experience with.

For information about the 1999 Zimbabwe International Book Fair contact: ZIBF head office, address on page 6, or for those in Europe, North America and the Caribbean: David Brine, ZIBF(UK), PO Box 21303, London WC2E 8PH, England. Fax +44 171 836 8501 e-mail: Visit the ZIBF website at [end]  [BPN, no 23, 1998, pp 6-7.]

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