Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 28, November 2001 



Katherine Salahi
Katherine Salahi is Co-ordinator, Bellagio Publishing Network

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 elsewhere.

Secretariat news

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, pp 2-3.]

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