A Guinean Perspective: Book publishing and distribution
Mamadou Aliou Sow is Directeur General, Les Editions Ganndal, BP 6552, Conakry, Guinea. Tel +224 46 35 07, fax +224 41 20 12.
Africa's autonomy resides in African people's ability to produce and manufacture using relevant and easily available technology. So far the continent has been subjected to alien science and technology, which is given as one of the key reasons why Africa has not taken off technologically. Recently, several steps have been taken to improve science education. A crucial step, alongside improvements in curriculum design, teacher training, communication systems and the infrastructure, is the development of reading materials.
Producing appropriate reading materials in science cannot take place outside the context of an indigenous publishing industry. A truly indigenous publishing industry cannot grow without a systematic and strategic book development plan which addresses the reading requirements of Africa within the realities of its social, political and economic environment.
There still exists a wide gap between the demand for and supply of essential reading materials in Africa. Demand should no longer be met by external sources because, if books are to be useful, they must respond to local needs and aspirations. It is a nation's own thinkers, writers and artists who can produce books that enrich its culture, fit its education system and narrow the gap between the intellectual and the common person. Only indigenous books can respond sensitively and promptly to the changing needs and environment of a country. Foreign books are undoubtedly useful for many purposes but only a local book industry can be in complete harmony with local interests and requirements. Against this backdrop UNESCO came up with the Science for Africa/Kawi project, which will produce six culturally relevant and popular science books focusing on renewable energy. The project is being implemented in conjunction with the African Publishers Network (APNET).
Having identified the weakness in Africa's energy supply, UNESCO addressed the issue by initiating dialogue among African governments on policy formulation and implementation. The UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, adopted a resolution called `Agenda 2' which sought to promote basic education in general, and scientific and technological literacy in particular. The World Solar Summit held in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1996 also charged that there is need to increase access to energy in developing countries. The provision of adequate energy services can improve living conditions, alleviate poverty, improve health and education, promote small-scale enterprises and create other income-generating activities especially in rural and isolated areas, thereby reducing rural to urban migration. With increased awareness societies can reduce costs, save foreign exchange and establish an energy supply base without heavy investment.
The context within which the Science For Africa/Kawi project is being undertaken is that practical solutions currently exist in the field of renewable energy. These are shown to young readers through a series of supplementary science books which are practical, appropriate and fun. The writing team, selected at a project meeting in Nairobi, comprises science educationists, science researchers, curriculum developers and writers from the media. An important element of the project lies in highlighting Africa's experiences, scientific knowledge and practices in renewable energy and enabling scientific discovery through distinctive African cultural reference points. So the texts present a scientific explanation of solar energy, wind, bio-gas, hydropower or wood-fuel, then give local examples, sometimes drawn from folklore. One introduces children to a myth describing the sun as a god who was adored and considered God's representative on earth. The sun's ability to drive away darkness, which was associated with evil, was greatly revered. Another example is the wind whose force was welcomed when it cleared fields, made river journeys faster, and dried crops and produce. Folklore and the practice of traditional culture continue to play a major part in the instruction and grounding of youth, especially since they are often fine-tuned to the existing environment.
The texts include interesting exercises such as how to make a bamboo whistle; they discuss energy conservation through, for example, the use of the mbaula coal pot. They incorporate environmental awareness and concern by encouraging the conservation of wood-fuel. Some communities plant a tree over the buried remains of the umbilical cord from a newly born child. The tree becomes the marker of the child's birthplace. This practice is a positive contribution to afforestation programmes.
A broad definition of renewable energy is presented, with provision for local interpretation. Africa is at different levels of development, so the texts include both modern uses and application of energy sources as well as what is considered `appropriate technology'.
At the Nairobi meeting participants thought that political willingness to use renewable energy effectively was lacking in many African countries. An aspect of the writing process has been to sensitise policy makers to include renewable energy in their developmental plans and to influence curriculum development to combine scientific methods with traditional knowledge of energy usage and conservation.
APNET members will be invited to participate in a tender process in order to publish the books, which will be produced in French, Portuguese and English and marketed as a series. [end] [BPN, no 23, 1998, pp 12-13.]
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