Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 24, December 1998 


Bellagio Publishing Network meets in Copenhagen for APNET evaluation

Katherine Salahi
Co-ordinator, Bellagio Publishing Network

This year's annual meeting of the Bellagio Publishing Network was generously hosted once again by DANIDA, together with the newly operational Danish Centre for Culture and Development, headed by the former director of Denmark's Images of Africa festival. Copenhagen in December is a different city from Copenhagen in June, when we last met there during the 1996 Images of Africa. This time there was snow on the ground and by 4.00 pm it was dark. We met in rooms decorated with candles and clove oranges, ate in the magically festive Tivoli Gardens, and shared out the coats, boots, gloves and scarves.

The first day concentrated on the evaluation of APNET, commissioned by Sida on behalf of all the donors in the Bellagio Group, and carried out by a Danish consultancy firm, COWI, who were selected jointly by Sida and APNET. The COWI team began work during the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in August, guided by terms of reference hammered out by APNET and Sida, in consultation with the other donors. The draft final report was ready a week or so before the meeting.

The evaluation was designed to assess the achievements of APNET `with a view to promote learning within APNET and make recommendations for the future'. Also under scrutiny was the effectiveness of donor support for APNET. By common acclaim the evaluators were outstanding - perceptive and rigorous within a framework of constructive support. The final report is due out in the first quarter of 1999.

The strength of the APNET-donor relationship is that partners share policy concerns, it is not just about money, despite repeated problems with funding. This was reflected in the decision taken at the meeting to set up a working group of donors and APNET, chaired by APNET, to work towards preparing a strategic five-year plan for APNET and streamlining their funding.

The report picked up on discussions initiated by the Oxford Secretariat at the previous year's Bellagio Publishing Network meeting, which recommended the gradual transfer of donor co-ordination and the organisation of meetings from Oxford to an expanded international section of APNET's secretariat in Harare. APNET and the Bellagio Secretariat will work together on the transfer. APNET plan to appoint an international officer, who will train with the Oxford secretariat before helping implement the transfer. We expect to organise our 1999 annual meeting together.

The following day's session provided Network members with the opportunity to present information about their own organisations and hear about others. Update reports came from APNET, ABC, the Bellagio Secretariat and Book Aid International. Olle Nordberg of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation introduced the new INPUDE Trust, which is set to replace the Dag Hammarskjöld Loan Guarantee Fund (LGF) as a source of credit for struggling publishers in East Africa. Based in Kenya rather than Sweden, INPUDE's scope and content are broader than the LGF, with an emphasis not only on book development and production, but also on marketing and distribution. INPUDE is actively looking for partners, publishers and projects.

Sue Buckwell of the British Council welcomed an invitation to address the meeting on the thorny question of whether the British Council's commitment to promoting British publishing conflicts with their ability to support indigenous African publishing. She vigorously defended the Council's dual role in the teeth of equally vigorous opposition. The British Council's policy is not to promote UK goods at the expense of local goods, she told the meeting. In reply she heard of the lack of locally published books in British Council libraries and exhibitions, that British publishers squeeze out indigenous publishers in their own search for a bigger share of the market, that in general the British Council does not acknowledge `the bigger picture'. As one African publisher explained, since African publishers are already doing much of the Council's work in promoting the English language, the least the British Council should do is work with them as partners.

Viviana Quiñones of the French NGO La Joie par les Livres, part of the French National Children's Book Centre, talked about their work in support of African children's literature and publishing. They have a resource centre of African books published in French and local languages, as well as books about Africa published in France. La Joie par les Livres works with a range of libraries in 20 francophone African countries, and provides book boxes. It has also produced an annotated bibliography of children's books in Africa.

La Joie par les Livres showed a collection of African books at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in 1992. The Fair's 1999 exhibition, which is scheduled to be opened by the President of Mali, is dedicated to illustrators from Africa (south of the Sahara). This exhibition will then travel, including to the Zimbabwe International Book Fair 1999. She urged APNET to send as many participants as possible to the Bologna Book Fair.

This was the first time that we had had French participation at a Bellagio meeting and we were delighted to welcome not only La Joie par les Livres, but also Régine Fontaine from the French Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, which is supporting La Joie par les Livres's African initiative.

The other newcomers to the meeting were the World Bank publisher, Dirk Koehler, and leader of new business development in the office of the vice-president, Tia Duer. Dirk Koehler is already known to APNET for his supportive work; as an experienced publisher himself, he talks their language. He informed the meeting of some of the activities he is able to do through his office in Washington, including the newly launched Africa Publishing Initiative for bilingual English/Kiswahili books on development, offered on tender to East African publishers, an initiative which he intends to expand to other regions and languages. Tia Duer outlined the changes in Bank policy currently under way under the presidency of James Wolfensohn, and the new focus on culture for sustainable development.

Renato Matusse, Director of Culture in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), who had met with APNET and the Bellagio Publishing Network at the Stockholm agora on culture earlier in the year, invited APNET's advice and support for SADC's work on issues of cultural copyright, book policy and trade barriers in the region. He explained that SADC was currently working on a protocol on culture which would be legally binding on all SADC countries, expressing the hope that a regional book policy would be part of the protocol.

African publishers had taken part in a major publishing conference in Bali, Indonesia in April at the invitation of the US NGO Obor, founder member of the Bellagio Publishing Network. Obor's director Donna Anderton told the meeting that the APNET participants made a huge impact at the conference. South-east Asian publishers were facing great problems because of the current economic crisis. They benefited greatly from hearing the experiences of the African publishers, well versed as they are in surviving difficult circumstances. A new network of Obor affiliates has been set up to help each other through difficult times. As result of the recommendations of African publishers, the Japan Foundation Asia Centre is funding a study to look at what the south-east Asian publishing industry needs now. Donna Anderton wanted the meeting to note that `there are publishers working today who would not be if APNET had not been at the conference.' [end] [BPN, no 24, 1998, p. 2]

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