Zimbabwe International Book Fair 2000
Reprinted with permission, from NewsAfrica vol. 1 no 7, August 28 2000.
For contact details see below.*
Despite the political uncertainty following the
June general elections in Zimbabwe, this year's Zimbabwe International
Book Fair (ZIBF) attracted a large number of exhibitors and several
big names in the field of African publishing, including renowned scholars
Ali Mazrui, Kole Omotoso, Terence Ranger and Eldred Jones, publisher
Kassahun Checole and poets Atukwei Okai and Lade Wosornu. Also there
were celebrated Zimbabwean writers, Yvonne Vera, Chenjerai Hove and
Shimmer Chinodya and various personalities from non-African countries
including Malaysia, Japan, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway,
Sweden, the UK and the US.
After a slow set-up, the first trading day was
hit by a national stayaway called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade
Unions and backed by the new opposition Movement for Democratic Change
to protest continuing government support for the violent occupation
of white-owned farms by war veterans and the alleged intimidation of
opposition supporters in urban areas. Adding to the uncertainty came
a hefty devaluation of the local dollar on the eve of the stayaway.
But business picked up after the stayaway was reduced from three days
to one and many traders expressed satisfaction at the volume of trade
conducted and contacts made. A total of 317 exhibitors turned out, slightly
up on last year.
The two big events of ZIBF, the weekend Indaba
and the five-day Writers Workshop were well attended, safeguarding ZIBF's
reputation as the premier book event in Africa. The two events are designed
to provide a forum for South-South and South-North communication about
publishing and access to information. The country of focus this year
A highlight of this year's ZIBF was the presentation
of the first Caine Prize for African Writing [see report on 'Awards
to African Books'] to Sudanese writer, Leila Aboulela for her short
story The Museum, which was published in a 1999 anthology of contemporary
African women's writing called Opening Spaces. The anthology was edited
by award-winning Zimbabwean writer Yvonne Vera and published jointly
by Heinemann's African Writers Series and Baobab Books of Zimbabwe.
Opening Spaces was one of the top-selling at the
book fair, along with titles by the other Zimbabwean writers shortlisted
for the prize. Among non-fiction writers, visiting scholar and honorary
ZIBF trustee Terence Ranger's history of Matebeleland, Voices from the
Rocks appeared to be a top seller. A new title that sparked interest
was The Pan-Africanists, published by the Harare-based Southern African
Research and Documentation Centre. This profile of 17 black leaders
from Africa and the diaspora, with a foreword by Kofi Annan, the UN
secretary-general, was launched during the official opening of the Ghana
Pavilion, showcasing publications from that country.
Another highlight of ZIBF 2000 was the launch
of the Africa 100 Best Books project. The idea for the project was mooted
two years ago by Kenyan scholar, Ali Mazrui, to commemorate African
writers of the past 100 years. Nominations are being sought for three
categories of creative writing - scholarship and children's writing
in any language - and a final list of the best 100 will be announced
in 2002. The aim of the project is to expose African writing and publishing
to a wider audience. Ideas being explored include reproducing books
no longer in print as collectors' series with translation. The project,
said ZIBF trustee, Alois Mlambo 'will help to celebrate our own creative
genius and market African writing'.
Unlike previous book fairs organised around specific
issues - last year the theme was gender- this year's 10th anniversary
event had the general theme 'Celebrating African Books' while the Indaba,
the annual curtain-raiser bringing together renowned writers, publishers,
librarians and distributors, was dubbed the 'Millennium Marketplace'.
Speaking to the theme of the book fair, Ekwow
Spio-Garbrah, Ghana's Minister of Education, and a published poet, said:
'Celebrating African books involves lauding and applauding our writers,
supporting publishers, assisting our book distributors and retailers
and taking all measures to promote literacy and the reading culture
among our people'.
Spio-Garbrah noted the high illiteracy rates,
particularly among women, the lack of clear-cut policies on language
use, the high cost of paper and ink for African countries. He recommended
that countries invest in mass literacy programmes, explore the possibility
of book development councils networking and producing literature in
shared languages, and pool natural resources for the production of inputs
to minimise the cost of book production in Africa. The minister led
a delegation of 25 Ghanaian publishers, writers and distributors.
This year's Indaba attracted 400 participants.
The two-day conference focused on marketing African books. In a keynote
address on market trends in the African book industry, Richard Crabbe,
the chair of the African Publishers Network, noted that the trend towards
the provision of basic education for all children had increased the
number of potential readers and economic liberalisation had created
opportunities for publishers, but economic reforms had sapped the purchasing
power of parents and potential readers. As a result, he said, publishers
were under pressure to produce books more affordably, but in the face
of low print runs and the rising cost of imported paper and printing
equipment, the onus was on governments to reduce tariffs on such inputs
to encourage the local production of books.
On an optimistic note, he said that the recent
declaration on the establishment of an African Union by OAU heads of
states and governments was a step toward creating a potential market
of more than 300 million readers - more than in the European Union or
US. 'African publishers need to think beyond their borders and seek
to develop the alliances and mergers that we now see in the airline
industry in Europe and North America,' Crabbe said.
The challenge to traditional book publishing
posed by the new information and communication technologies was keenly
debated by book fair participants. On a positive note Thelma Tate, a
US librarian, noted in a writers' workshop session that these technologies
brought rapid communication worldwide, better interactive teaching and
instruction methods, ease of searching and finding information, improved
reserves such as the ability to scan documents and upload to the Internet,
improved storage and preservation of materials, continuous access to
information, improved business services through e-commerce, distance
learning and the expansion of jobs.
Mads Liland, of Norway, noted that the US-based
company Amazon now claims 17 million customers in 160 countries following
its successful 1995 launch of book sales via the internet. With minimal
investments in warehousing, internet booksellers can offer books at
highly competitive prices. Electronic buying also offers the customer
a fast, simple and reliable means of selecting a book from a seemingly
infinite list of titles and having it delivered to the door.
With the digitisation of the book becoming inevitable,
Ghana's education minister asked, 'Where does Africa stand with such
low per-capita income and such low per-capita knowledge?' Spio-Garbrah
acknowledged the problems posed by poor telecommunications in Africa,
the high cost of computers, limited access to electricity and the fact
that few people use credit cards (the most common form of payment on
the internet), but he recommended that the new technology be explored
to Africa's advantage. He noted that while it was unrealistic to expect
a primary producer such as Ghana to achieve rapid economic growth, it
was possible to develop its human potential to the extent that 'gross
national knowledge' should become as important as gross national product.
Picking up on this theme during his traditional
summing up of the two-day Indaba, Terence Ranger asked participants
to consider what kind of knowledge Africa needs in the new millennium.
'What kind of knowledge can Africa particularly produce?' Ranger asked,
noting that while most Africans would for long remain 'digiprived',
(the expression coined by Ali Mazrui to describe those deprived of information
in the digital age) even the 'digiprivileged' could end up merely consuming
the vast amounts of information made available through the electronic
revolution rather than producing their own. Backing up this point, Keiko
Kusenesi, the president of Japan's African Literature Association, noted
that even in a hi-tech country such as Japan, the overwhelmingly English
content of information on the internet meant that Japanese users did
not access it widely.
Ranger praised the new forms of knowledge embodied
in Yvonne Vera's portrayals of 'human dignity and human agency', while
Kole Omotoso suggested that knowledge must be 'available, repeatable,
enduring and improvable'. But linking the theme of African knowledge
to the problem of censorship, Chenjerai Hove said that some governments
were not keen for everybody to read and write 'in case we know too much',
hence the lack of commitment to literacy campaigns. 'Censorship is like
closing the tap on knowledge and illiteracy is a form of censorship,'
Other keenly debated themes were the marginalisation
of African literature in northern markets and the language dilemma of
African writers. Zimbabwean writer Pathisa Nyathi noted there was a
widespread awareness of the importance of indigenous languages as an
'embodiment of a people's culture', and the obligation of the writer
to raise their status, but they had a low status compared to foreign
languages associated with technological progress and scientific advances.
'Nobel prize laureates in Africa have written in these languages. Writers
in indigenous languages have not enjoyed similar recognition,' Nyathi
noted. 'The death of a language is the death of a people. Indigenous
knowledge can no longer be accessed. The people are like a rudderless
ship in the dark and stormy seas. They lack confidence to face challenges.
They can't enter the global village as equal partners. Rather, they
are dragged in as unwilling hewers of wood and drawers of water.'
Other activities of the ZIBF week included a 'North
Meets South' exchange between African and Swedish writers, live literature
readings, workshops on copyrighting and marketing African scholarship,
a World Bank workshop on marketing, and the Amabhuku exhibition in the
National Art Gallery adjacent to the book fair grounds. The exhibition
is a collection of illustrations from African children's books, first
shown in at the 1998 Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy.
The idea of a country focus was introduced in
1998 with Kenya as the first country of focus, followed by South Africa
in 1999. This year Ghana was chosen to represent the West African region.
'This is good exposure for books from Ghana and it gives us the opportunity
not only to come and sell our books but also to learn how to sell,'
said Akoss Ofori-Mensah, the honorary secretary of the Ghana Book Publishers
Association. Next year's focus will be on francophone Africa.
This article originally
appeared in NewsAfrica Vol 1 No7, 28 August 2000. NewsAfrica is a new
weekly news magazine for Africa and Africans in the diaspora, published
from London, 334a Goswell Road, London EC1V 7LQ, England. +44 20 7713
8135 (tel), +44 20 7713 8136 (fax), email@example.com, with operations
in Lagos, Johannesburg and Washington DC.
no 2627, 2000, p 4.]
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