Bellagio Publishing Network meets in Oxford, June
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
- 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
- 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.]
to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 31, 2002>>