Bellagio Publishing Network  

BPN Newsletter Issue No 23, October 1998 


A Guinean Perspective: Book publishing and distribution

Mamadou Aliou Sow

Mamadou Aliou Sow is Directeur General, Les Editions Ganndal, BP 6552, Conakry, Guinea. Tel +224 46 35 07, fax +224 41 20 12.

Translated from French by Rachel Wiggans

The history of Guinean publishing

At independence in 1958, Guinea had not one publishing structure in place, not even anything inherited from the colonial system. And for many years after independence publishing existed only as a nationalised industry producing political propaganda for the ruling socialist regime. The economy was centralised and state-controlled, so the possibilities for developing a national private sector were almost non-existent.

Book distribution in the country was also exclusively handled by a state enterprise, Libraport. There was therefore no opportunity to establish private bookshops, even for selling ideologically acceptable literature.

The introduction of teaching in national languages in 1968 did provide a limited basis for indigenous textbook publishing, even though the organisations responsible for their production and distribution were not technically prepared.

The books that were available in French came mainly from France, Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire and were usually imported secretly, since the authorities attempted to block any publication from a capitalist country.

But in 1984 there was a profound change of political direction: the state monopoly was replaced by a liberal economy. This change was accompanied by a decision to re-introduce French as the language of instruction at every level in the education system.

The birth of a national publishing sector

Liberalisation of the economy was a significant turning-point. Guinean entrepreneurs became interested in the book industry, bookshops began to appear and private sector publishing emerged. Even so, the after-effects of the previous socialist management of the country were persistent and these enterprises developed slowly.

The Societé Africaine d'Edition et de Communication (SAEC), established in 1990, was the first private publishing house in Guinea, concentrating on general literature and textbooks. In June 1992 Les Editions Ganndal was founded, active in the areas of textbook production, literature for young people, general works and publications in national languages. Unfortunately, no new publishing houses have been set up since, so the possibilities for diversification in the production of printed material are limited. Clearly this situation is linked to the multitude of obstacles that continue to impede book development in Guinea despite the progressive withdrawal of the state in favour of private publishers.

In terms of distribution, a commercial network has been created comprising three main bookshops: SOGUIDIP, Tamsir Bookshop and the Bookshop of Guinea. Two companies, Societé de distribution de livre (SODIL) and SAEC/Magoubie, were created towards the end of 1993, concerned specifically with textbook distribution and involving French and Guinean partners.

The socio-economic environment

Current socio-economic conditions do not favour the emergence of a genuine national book industry. In fact there have been very few institutional measures to facilitate publishing, nor has there been much concern shown towards encouraging writers, providing banking concessions or tax relief for imports, price regulation or a national book policy.

From a technical point of view, book production is held back by numerous difficulties right from the conception to the distribution of books. The book market is limited because of factors such as the high level of illiteracy (around 67%), the reading public's weak purchasing power, the absence of a reliable distribution network, and the lack of both a reading culture and places to read.

Publishers are faced with problems such as access to capital, the shortage of adequately trained technical staff, high manufacturing costs and the limited capacity of local printers. There are only fifteen or so printers in the country, modestly equipped for the most part, and among whom only three print books. Runs are no larger than 10,000 copies.

In their eight years of existence, the combined publications of the two Guinean publishing houses are fewer than fifty titles in French, and only two titles in national languages, published by Editions Ganndal. The presence of French publishers, particularly in the key area of textbook production, becomes more and more of a burden, since the supply of school books by the state continues to be made on the basis of international tenders whose conditions are practically impossible for indigenous publishers.

Faced with this multitude of constraints and the absence of appropriate national policies, it is hard to imagine how genuinely independent Guinean publishing can possibly emerge.

Guinean professionals start to organise

However, the different parts of the book chain are in the process of linking locally to confront the numerous challenges facing them, and to seek appropriate solutions to shared problems for mutual benefit. A highly significant event was, without doubt, the creation in May 1998 of a national professional network comprising all the partners involved in book production and distribution. The Réseau des Professionnels Guinéens du Livre (REPROLIG) counts amongst its number publishers, bookshops, printers, cultural NGOs, the service supporting public reading, and the Guinean Writers' Association.

REPROLIG intends to be a tool for economic and cultural promotion for the benefit of the different partners and professionals in the book industry. Hence the preference for a network which integrates all the links in the chain, rather than simply a publishers' association. Co-ordination of the network has been taken on by Editions Ganndal.

REPROLIG's most important institutional and strategic objectives are:

  • to create a co-operative framework for publishing development and book promotion
  • to promote reading and a sustainable literate environment in Guinea
  • to instigate the formulation of a national book policy involving all partners
  • to develop training programmes for all branches of the local book industry
  • to facilitate the availability and accessibility of books to as many Guineans as possible.

The main plan of action drawn up for the short term envisages capacity-building through staff training, making contact with the relevant parts of government with a view to drawing up a national book policy, and organising working groups about the issue of promoting reading.

A national book policy will, in particular, clarify the roles and responsibilities of all parties concerned with the book sector: government (national education, finance, culture, communication etc.), private sector (publishers, printers, distributors), NGOS and donors. In addition, it will define the place of materials in national languages, and promotional strategies for them, at the same time as providing a logical framework for collaboration between partners in the public and private sectors.

Considering the diversity and complexity of the challenges to overcome, the task will certainly be arduous, but the strong and spontaneous commitment shown by participants at the meeting setting up the network is a sign of hope. All are convinced that overcoming the shared problems they face can be done effectively only on the basis of a co-operative approach.

In conclusion, it should be noted that in addition to internal synergies, Guinean publishing is also opening up to African and international partners. Indeed, national publishing is increasingly benefiting from the fruits of south-south and south-north co-publishing. All of which proves once again the willingness of Guinean nationals to work towards the growth of local publishing. [end]  [BPN, no 23, 1998, pp 11-12.]

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