Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Publishing in local languages workshop in Asmara, January 2000

Akin Fasemore
Akin Fasemore is the Executive Secretary of APNET, PO Box 3773, Harare, Zimbabwe. +263 4 705105 (tel), +263 4 705106 (fax),

African publishing, like several activities and industries on the continent, survives in the face of multi-faceted challenges through a natural resilience which often defies classification within the usual western developmental parameters. Thus, with no formal skills training or capital base, many indigenous African publishing outfits have evolved from low beginnings into modern enterprises now adapting to new technologies in book production and information dissemination. This is even more true of local language publishing, which can be said to have begun from the papyrus writings of the early Egyptians through the Amharic and Tigrinya texts of the 13th and 14th centuries. In West Africa, the first literary effect of European presence was, besides the local translation of the Bible, the production of a newspaper in Yoruba in south-west Nigeria in the 1870s.

Although publishing in local language materials has not been as lucrative as textbook production, it has nevertheless resisted whatever death threats the combination of elitist disregard and western-oriented textbook publishing might have posed to its adherents.

In encouraging and nurturing African publishing, APNET has devoted attention to local language publishing through conducting research into African language publishing; participating in an ADEA study on the economics of African language publishing; co-organising a seminar at ZIBF 1996 with DSE and IGOL on African language publishing; and publishing several articles on African languages in its African Publishing Review. APNET's current strategic plan includes production of a catalogue of African languages books published in Africa.

The Against All Odds Conference in Asmara provided a unique opportunity for APNET to bring publishers of African language books together to share ideas with each other and with scholars and writers, to acquire skills and to examine the constraints and potentials of African publishers as strategic allies in the development of African languages and literatures. The participants and presenters came from Cameroon, Eritrea, Lesotho, Nigeria, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The objectives of the workshop organised by APNET were to develop and improve publishing skills in local languages; to acquire skills in African language publishing using modern technology; and to give visibility to African language publishers. Sessions included multilingualism and multilingual publishing; government policy and local language development; marketing and distributing local language publications; desktop publishing and African language publishing; the impact of missionary and colonial activities on African languages; the state of local languages and the constraints facing publishers of local language materials in production, marketing, distribution and acceptability within education and official programmes.

A visit to one of the biggest printing presses in Eastern Africa, Sabur Printing Services, complemented the session on editorial/production processes applicable to language publishing.
The workshop led to an increased awareness of the importance, potential and challenges of publishing in local languages, and participants identified skills and software in this relatively unexplored area of African language publishing.

A further outcome was the collation of ideas on a new training module on local language publishing for API (African Publishing Institute), APNET's training programme.

At the Against All Odds conference, APNET organised a four-day workshop on publishing in local languages. This article is an abbreviated report of the workshop.

Language policies and structures in African countries
Country Language Development Agency National Language Policy

Implementing/ Coordinating Agency

Languages with Orthography
Eritrea Yes Yes; all 9 local languages are equal Yes All 9 Languages

No; but Kiswahili departments exist in universities

Yes (1964) Nil 1 (Kiswahili); but there are about 50 local languages
Lesotho Yes Yes (1974) Ministry of Education, Institutions 1 language with 2 orthographies
Nigeria Yes (NERDC) Yes (1981) Nil

250 local languages

30 with orthographies

13 with descriptions

South Africa Yes (Pan-South African Language Board Yes (1994), 11 official languages Nil 8
Zambia Yes Yes Yes

73 local languages

7 with orthographies

7 with descriptions

Zimbabwe Nil Drafting stage Nil

7 local languages

2 with orthographies

2 with grammar


[end] [BPN, no 26–27, 2000, p. 9.]

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