Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 31, November 2002 


Bellagio Publishing Network meets in Oxford, June 2002

Sulaiman Adebowale
Sulaiman Adebowale is Editor, Bellagio Publishing Network

For two days, publishers, book development organizations and other committed individuals gathered in Oxford to discuss the role of the Bellagio Publishing Network as a catalyst for strengthening indigenous publishing and book development in the south. It marked an important occasion in the history of the network, for the debates and discussions which came out of the exchanges during this short period not only highlighted the achievements of the network in its nearly ten years of existence, but also set out the essence of the birth of a new future for the network, with a view to ensuring that it continues to work towards its mission. The network’s role, the meeting noted, which has evolved over the last ten years, remains of key relevance to the work of the different individual organizations that make up the Bellagio Publishing Network, and the various communities which they serve.

A key feature of Bellagio meetings has been the opportunity to exchange information on the various activities which publishing development actors and organizations are currently working on. Paul Osborn shared perspectives on Médiateurs and CTA’s work in agricultural research dissemination in developing countries. Sara Harrity and Catherine Nicholson discussed Book Aid International’s renewed focus on how to work with all elements in the book chain, such as librarians, publishers, booksellers and others, to advocate for promoting reading in Africa. James Gibbs described the role of the Morel Trust, a small family trust, in promoting the work of writers from Africa by ensuring that their works get published and disseminated. Ruth Makotsi explained how the newly formed East African Book Development Association is using the socio-political characteristics of the East African region to devise book development programmes that will impact on the region as a whole.

Victor Nwankwo outlined the African Books Collective new five-year Strategic Plan 2002–2006. The Plan is financially supported by partner donor agencies, and ensures that ABC can plan its work and projects more effectively without being hampered by an unstable financial environment. Akin Fasemore highlighted key pointers in APNET’s current activities – a new training programme, a drive for broader continental and international linkages and support in APNET programmes, a broadening of the African support base, and strengthening the organization through improvement of national publishers associations. Anne Powell presented the recent activities of INASP, which include efforts to find an African base for African Journals Online, a study on the book chain in Africa, and co-ordinating study visits and supporting internships between journal publishers from the north and south. Ian Randle shared news about recent activities of the Caribbean Publishers Network (CAPNET), created to support and promote indigenous publishing in the Caribbean. Dirk Koehler focused on the print-on-demand (POD) technology and the efforts of the World Bank to alleviate some of Africa’s publishing problems by helping to form an African POD network.

The Bellagio Publishing Network Secretariat

With limited resources, the Secretariat has ensured that the network remains a forum for committed individuals and organizations concerned with developing indigenous publishing in the countries of the south. This has been achieved through the continued publication of the Bellagio Publishing Network Newsletter and the development of a new website. It is also involved with various projects aimed at fostering a viable environment for indigenous publishing in the south; the most recent is the nascent network of African Book Fair Directors in conjunction with the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. The network is also looking at the emerging comics publishing sector in Africa as the next title in the Bellagio Studies in Publishing Series, a series that serves as a base for practical information and knowledge about publishing and book development in the south.

The way forward

The background to the history of the network and the critical elements for its future were set out in Katherine Salahi’s paper ‘Bellagio Publishing Network: The way forward’. It traced the context that gave birth to the idea of a network to promote indigenous publishing in Africa and how the changes in this context had impacted on the network’s activities and, subsequently, its achievements. The paper also raised questions about the network’s present role and what it could aspire to be in future. Hans Zell’s response to ‘What we can do’ highlighted key areas with gaps and ways in which the network can fill these gaps; thereby not only assuring itself a continued place among organizations in the sector but, more importantly, also working more effectively to its goal of strengthening indigenous publishing in the south. The discussions were rich and broad, and portend the beginning of further deliberations, given the limited time available.

Below are some of the key questions discussed and the views of the participants.

  • What is the relevance of the network? It complements the work of various initiatives supporting indigenous publishing in the south, and in particular is important for linking various actors and initiatives working in publishing and book development not just in Africa, but also in other areas of the south.
  • Its mission remains valid, but it has evolved from being a donor-led organization. Now, it should be looking more at a network led by its constituencies. This should have a valuable effect on the future agenda of the network and removes an area that was restrictive during its early period.
  • The absence of donors at this year’s meeting was noted as something that should be redressed. The meeting also acknowledged the letters of support to its ideals, and apologies for not being able to attend, from various committed organizations and individuals. The donors should be encouraged to recognise the value of continuing dialogue amongst themselves and with their partners.
  • On its area of focus, it is important for the network to remain active beyond Africa, given the need for promoting south-south co-operation. However, the diversity of the south also means the network must be realistic in how far it can go. An African and Caribbean focus is accepted as apt given the historical and cultural linkages between the two regions.
  • On being part of the network: It will look into the modalities and forms of participation. Its focus on indigenous publishing should remain key as a way of promoting the perspective of people in these regions in the wider scheme of things.
  • The name Bellagio Publishing Network should be retained not just because of its familiarity among book development actors, but also in recognition of the pioneering support from the Rockefeller Foundation. Secondly, there should be an understanding that ‘publishing’ in its activities means the entire book chain – publishers, booksellers, librarians, readers, and every other actor and sector in the creation and provision of books.
  • The web site will strive to be a valuable resource for the network by serving as an effective platform to boost its objective of contributing to efforts at developing publishing in the south. The discussion forum should act as a focal point in the exchange of information and is intended to facilitate networking among publishing actors in the south. [end][BPN, no 31, 2002, p. 3.]

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