Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 24, December 1998 



During my days of involvement with USIS programs, I had an opportunity to observe some of USAID's involvement in book publishing, particularly the results of its heydays in the sixties. My opinion of several, notably those in Mexico and India, was that these were USAID programs that made a lasting difference. So I read James Tumusiime's article, Uganda's book industry: flourishing without roots (BPNN22), with some disappointment.

What are some of the differences? Mexico and India already had printing industries and a small number (reaching a critical mass) of struggling publishers. The AID support was handled through major American publishers like McGraw-Hill, J. Wiley and Prentice-Hall, which created joint ventures with local publishers. Much of the support went to reprints and translations of existing American books. However, the publishers were also encouraged to publish new works. After the USAID support wound down and the American publishers disengaged themselves, much more vigorous publishing industries were left behind.

From Tumusiime's description, little infrastructure exists in Uganda and the program does not require it to be installed and used. Second, both Mexico and India had large populations; Uganda's is much smaller. Therefore, sustaining a thriving, diverse publishing industry will be much more difficult after the donor leaves. However, it is far from being a mini-state. It is larger than Ghana, where locally published literature and children's books are available in reasonable quantities taking into consideration the state of the economy and the purchasing power of the population. And unlike Nigeria, which had the involvement of many British publishers in the sixties, Ghanaian publishers have done it pretty much on their own.

Having only Tumusiime's article for information, I hesitate to make any definitive analyses but throw out a couple ideas coming from Côte d'Ivoire's experience. Here there are two major publishers, both of which are owned and controlled by the Hachette group and which have been around for several decades. When the Ivoirian government required in 1995 that the primary school books be printed in the country, it gave a big boost to the local printing industry (which admittedly is quite well developed and modern). It also meant production costs went down.

Could requiring local production work? Secondly, is competition necessary for high-quality books? These two publishers would say no. If the publishers work hand in hand with the government to assure quality, you will get it. Of course, you must be willing to pay for it. Finally, both these publishers produce a certain number of trade books. They have to because an informal part of their privileged position is that they will publish a certain number of children's books and literature. Couldn't those Ugandan publishers which are successful in the textbook market also be convinced to support the cultural development of Uganda through publishing new writing?

Yours sincerely,

Robert Palmeri

06 BP1160, Abidjan 06, Côte d'Ivoire. Tel +225 44 09 98, fax +225 44 45 36, e-mail:

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