Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Book publishing liberalisation in Zambia

Chris H Chirwa
Chris H Chirwa is a journalist and consultant, and Director of Image Publishers Limited, PO Box 35033, Lusaka, Zambia. +260 1 254898 (tel) +260 1 254898 (fax)

The state of publishing in Zambia is changing albeit rather slowly. Barely ten years ago Zambia was regularly quoted as one of the few countries in Africa where state publishing had, with negative consequences, taken root. The publishing industry is now passing through its third phase. The first was the pre-independence period when an open-door policy - with various publishers - operated in Zambia. The second phase was the post-independence era after 1964, when the nationalisation of book publishing and distribution was in place in 1966 and a statutory organisation was established to fulfil these two roles.

The third phase started on 15 November 1991 when, less than one month after taking over the reins of power, the newly-elected government of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) proclaimed the liberalisation of the production and supply of educational materials in Zambia.

The government proclamation opened the gates for other educational publishers and suppliers to enter an arena which hitherto had been the exclusive preserve of the Zambia Educational Publishing House (ZEPH).

ZEPH had been founded in 1966 (as the Kenneth Kaunda Foundation), with a board of directors composed almost entirely of government ministers, and with the Republican President as the chairman and patron. When the MMD government came to power in 1991, however, the board of directors was reconstituted. The permanent secretaries of the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance and Economic Development became chairman and vice-chairman, respectively.

Up to then ZEPH, a statutory organisation, was responsible for publishing all educational materials developed by the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) of the Ministry of Education, printing, marketing and distributing the published materials via eleven outlets throughout Zambia. ZEPH was, on a limited scale, joined by two other parastatal companies, Zambia Printing Company and Times-Printpak Zambia Limited, which also published and printed educational materials.

The 1991 proclamation was generally perceived as an indication that sooner or later ZEPH, Times-Printpak Zambia Limited and Zambia Printing Company would be privatised, since the privatisation programme for various state-owned companies had already started in earnest.

More than nine years down the line, none of the three companies has been privatised and prospects of their being privatised are almost nil.

During these years Zambia has witnessed the emergence of a number of privately-owned book publishers and booksellers of varying sizes. Among these are Longman Zambia Limited and Oxford University Press (who had closed their Zambian offices in the mid-seventies because of dwindling business in the primary school market) and Macmillan Publishers Limited (who, through their parent UK-based holding company, were previously represented by National Educational Company of Zambia Limited, a subsidiary of the Kenneth Kaunda Foundation, ZEPH's predecessor). Notable among the privately-owned Zambian companies which publish primary and secondary books are School and College Press, Insaka Press Limited, Maiden Publishing House, Bookworld Publishers, P M Matondo Publishers and Multimedia Zambia. As with most publishing houses at the beginning, the majority of these Zambian publishers are very small with between one and five staff - clearly small is beautiful! Some of the editorial and graphic design services are hired on a freelance basis. With their gradual increase in business operations one envisages recruitment of additional full-time staff. The culture of publishing company mergers, as experienced in Europe and North America in order to maximise economies of scale, has not spread to Zambia yet. During this period a number of publishing companies have ceased operating for one reason or another.

Apart from ZEPH, there are now at least ten other publishers, including the CDC, involved in publishing books for the primary and secondary school sector, thereby heightening the level of competition in terms of editorial content and aesthetic production.

In order to consolidate the liberalisation of the production and supply of educational materials, the Ministry of Education, after a series of seminars, workshops and exhaustive consultations with various stakeholders, prepared a comprehensive document on 'Policy guidelines and strategies for the provision and utilisation of instructional materials for schools and colleges under a liberalised set-up in Zambia'. The document provides a detailed situation analysis, a problem analysis, sections on the evaluation policy of the CDC, and guidelines for writers of educational materials.

With policies and systems on development, production and supply in place, the Ministry has also, for the guidance of publishers, set long-term targets of textbook requirements. For instance, under the Basic Education Sub-Sector Investment Programme (BESSIP), the Ministry of Education would like to improve the supply of educational materials, in particular to attain a pupil/textbook ratio of 2:1 by the year 2005. (Currently the ratio varies from subject to subject and from one geographical location of school to another - urban or rural - with the rural area having an average ratio of 6:1) This objective logically means publishers bracing themselves to meet the challenge by producing enough books, and the Ministry allocating sufficient funds to meet the resultant increased bill.

To this end the CDC is rapidly taking on its role of revising and developing syllabi, evaluating scripts intended for use in schools, and the general quality control of teaching and learning materials, rather than engaging in book publishing. Accordingly the CDC is now able to compile and publish a list of officially approved and recommended books for use in Zambian schools to which suppliers and publishers can refer.

Whereas the Zambia Printing Company and Times-Printpak Zambia, as parastatal companies, operate under the Companies Act, ZEPH, as a statutory organisation established under an act of parliament, is exempt from paying corporate tax and customs duty on imported goods. The 1991 liberalisation of educational materials production and supply was therefore seen by the book industry as the Zambian government's first step towards levelling the playing ground. When parliament passed the Privatisation Act and the Zambia Privatisation Agency was established in 1992, it was widely believed that ZEPH, then the largest educational book publisher and supplier of educational materials, would be included in the privatisation programme of various state-owned companies.

From 1982 to 1993 ZEPH had benefited a great deal from various donor-funded projects including the Zambia Educational Materials Project (ZEMP) which initially helped ZEPH with training, reprinting of out-of-stock educational titles, upgrading the printing infrastructure, supplying a fleet of vehicles for the distribution of educational materials and generally improving management systems. Later, ZEMP veered its main thrust from supporting ZEPH as an institution to improving the book publishing industry in Zambia as a whole.

The government, in its declared commitment to placing all business in the hands of the private sector, made two attempts, in 1996 and 1997, to privatise ZEPH. Major local daily newspapers carried advertisements by the Zambia Privatisation Agency (ZPA) for the sale of ZEPH. A total of six serious local and international bidders were shortlisted for detailed negotiations. Although two finalists - first and second best bidders - were alternately offered ZEPH, the bid fell through for some reason in 1998. Between 1992 and January 2000, 240 state-owned companies had been privatised, but ZEPH is not amongst them.

It is now understood that the Ministry of Education has retracted its plans for privatising ZEPH; the status quo will have to be maintained and a new board of directors appointed to safeguard government interest in the organisation.

The latest development obviously goes against the original spirit and principle of true liberalisation and ensuring an even playing ground because ZEPH may continue to have an edge over other educational book publishers and suppliers. And while various privately-owned publishers - Zambian-owned, locally incorporated foreign publishers, and multinationals - will give ZEPH stiff competition and a hard run for its money, state publishing, albeit on a reduced scale, will continue in Zambia. More so because its historical background means that ZEPH commands a huge backlist of educational titles developed by the CDC, and has suitably trained and experienced personnel, an appropriate infrastructure, and printing equipment. If substantial working capital (which is desperately needed as ZEPH operations are at less than 50 per cent capacity) were provided by the shareholders (that is, the government) ZEPH would quickly awaken from its current operational slumber because, with its large number of educational materials in stock, it could put in place a massive reprint programme and grab a larger share of the school market than any other publisher, making those who have not developed as much as ZEPH face unfair competition.

Whether the Zambia Educational Publishing House (Amendment 1992) Act will undergo further amendments to remove ZEPH's advantages over other publishers and printers is yet to be seen. It would be useful to know whether ZEPH might revert to the pre-1986 structure, whereby two distinct companies operated - one purely to publish and the other to purchase, market and distribute educational materials nation-wide - except that this time a separate printing company may have to be hived off as well. Such a 'new' set-up may help improve the management and operations of the new-look ZEPH. Judging from the working culture brought about by liberalisation, competition is the name of the game in the book industry in Zambia today. And so ZEPH is not basking in its old glory as the publisher, but fighting hard to retain its image alongside other Zambian publishers competing to perform well and successfully in spite of all the odds.

Since 1994 various stakeholders in the book industry in Zambia (including authors, librarians, printers, booksellers, publishers, and representatives of most government ministries associated with the book development) have, through workshops, round-table discussions and a symposium, progressively undertaken extensive groundwork to formulate a National Book Policy and draft a bill for a proposed Book Development Council of Zambia (BDCZ). After what appeared endless work, these two key documents were finalised, and are now under consideration by the government before the bill is further reviewed and tabled before parliament. This will give the BDCZ firm legal backing, facilitating both its operation and the implementation of the National Book Policy.

The government's vision for the development of a strong and competitive book industry in Zambia is also underscored by the National Policy on Education 'Educating Our Future'.
As well as almost all official documents emphasising the provision of suitable and sufficient quantities of textbooks for various levels, strategies to promote the culture of reading for pleasure have also been developed to improve literacy levels and the quality of public libraries. This should support trade publishing in the country, and probably persuade more publishers to find reason for general publishing instead of concentrating on educational textbook publishing, as is the situation now.

At the moment things are changing fast with the emergence of many more privately-owned publishers and booksellers, the organisational changes being made to ZEPH, the daunting but exciting challenge of producing sufficient quantities of textbooks to meet the increasing school population by the year 2005 and beyond, the imminent approval of the National Book Policy, and the establishment of the Book Development Council of Zambia to address various book industry-related issues. The future of book publishing in Zambia appears set for a major leap forward. [BPN, no 26–27, 2000, p. 27.]

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