Katherine Salahi is Co-ordinator, Bellagio
Although the idea of an African Publishers Network (APNET)
was mooted well before the first Bellagio conference on publishing and
development in 1991, and might well have developed into a credible organisation
without a parallel network to support it, the fact remains that `the
Bellagio Group of donors' within the Bellagio Publishing Network from
the start made APNET their major focus for support. Through the Bellagio
secretariat and the annual Network meetings, the donors were able to
keep in close contact with each other and with APNET. The coherent relationship
between funders and APNET that was thus enabled has now successfully
transformed into the APNET strategic partnership. APNET has come of
age and this year, for the first time, is meeting with its strategic
partners independently of the Bellagio Publishing Network. Where does
this leave the Bellagio Publishing Network?
The main mission of the Bellagio Publishing Network
has been to strengthen African publishing, and many good developments,
of which APNET is perhaps the most high profile, have happened in the
ten years of the Network's existence. But no one at all familiar with
the conditions prevailing throughout the African continent today can
claim that enough has been done. Illiteracy remains a running sore in
the body politic. Book provision is still woefully inadequate, in quality
and quantity, where it matters most - in schools, in libraries, in rural
areas and in the poorer parts of towns and cities. Books, those most
powerful of emancipatory tools, those calories of creativity and the
imagination, are still denied to the great masses of Africa's inhabitants.
Many organisations in the south and the north
share a mission to eradicate illiteracy in the name of development.
What distinguishes the Bellagio Publishing Network associate organisations
and individuals is our emphasis on the strategic role of African publishers
in this process, and our commitment to indigenously published books
for real development. Our original mission statement spelt this out:
Recognising the importance of the printed word
and the development of a reading culture as key vehicles for social,
economic and cultural development and autonomy, and aiming to foster
an increase in the number and quality of African voices being heard
both inside and outside of Africa, the Bellagio Group [i.e. `the
Bellagio Group in support of African publishing', which became known
as the Bellagio Publishing Network - Ed.] will work to strengthen
indigenous African publishing.
Not enough has changed since 1993, when that
statement was set down by a group of enthusiastic and dedicated book
professionals, donors and NGOs, to warrant any claim of mission accomplished.
Nor is the end in sight. Much remains to be done, many organisations
and individuals remain committed to the aims.
The Bellagio Publishing Network Newsletter,
as `an occasional publication concerning publishing and book development',
has from the start covered a wider geographical focus than the Network
it serves. In this issue we cover new developments within the Caribbean
Publishers Network, an organisation directly inspired by the African
Publishers Network, and working closely with them. The APNET-CAPNET
relationship is symptomatic of an encouraging increase in south-south
co-operation for culture and development. A short piece on networking
among publishers in the Pacific provides the good news that another
new regional organisation for strengthening indigenous publishing is
in the making.
We make no apology for the strongly South African
focus of this issue, because each article carries wider relevance than
South Africa alone. Bridget Impey and Colleen Higgs write about two
new South African initiatives that are attempting to address issues
of literacy and empowerment through book development. As we struggle
to comprehend the current world crisis sparked by the September 11 attacks
on the USA and the retaliatory attacks on Afghanistan, the urgent need
for a properly educated, critically alert world citizenry cannot be
overstated. Jane Katjavivi's report on an academic conference on book
development held at Rhodes University (during the Zimbabwe International
Book Fair) highlights one worrying issue: the chasm between different
professions apparently working in the same field to the same end. Sulaiman
Adebowale's thought-provoking review article on The Politics of Publishing
in South Africa touches on similar issues though viewed through
a different lens. The idea of `the culture of a society's publishing'
encapsulating `its connections with the larger society' is appealing,
and worth exploring in other studies.
`The Internet, e-commerce and Africa's book professions'
carries the Hans Zell hallmark of valuable practical advice combined
with sober realism on the hot topic of publishing in the digital era.
It poses questions that are vital to ask, and should help focus publishing
planning in this key area for forward-looking publishers in Africa and
Rachel Wiggans, who was assistant co-ordinator
of the Network for four years, left the secretariat in February to pursue
other interests. Her quiet dedication, immense hard work, intelligence
and humour, not to mention her fluency in French, were invaluable. We
are deeply grateful to her for her many contributions to the work of
the secretariat, and wish her the very best. We are delighted to welcome
Sulaiman Adebowale to the secretariat during a one-year sabbatical from
CODESRIA, where he is Assistant Editor of Publications and Communications.
Sulaiman is working on the newsletter and website while taking an e-media
course at Oxford Brookes University. [end] [BPN, no 28, 2001,
to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 28, 2001>>