Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 31, November 2002 


African book fair directors meet in Cape Town, 25 July 2002

Ruth Makotsi
Ruth Makotsi is a publishing consultant, and Executive Secretary, East African Book Development Association (EABDA), PO Box 13422, Nairobi, Kenya. +254 2 447815 (tel/fax), email:

Fourteen delegates from all regions of Africa, representing book fairs and book sector organizations, assembled in Cape Town at a meeting convened jointly by the Bellagio Publishing Network and Zimbabwe International Book Fair. Convenors Moses Samkange of ZIBF and Katherine Salahi of BPN explained the purpose of the gathering. With financial support from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, directors of major book fairs in Africa and key book organizations that support book fairs were invited to meet together in order to share information on various fairs, and to discuss the possibility of establishing a Pan-African network of African book fair directors.

Given the shared objective of promoting Africa's book sector, the meeting provided an opportunity for directors and organizers of African book fairs to learn more about each other's activities. With the growing number of international book fairs on the continent, collaboration among the various organizers is increasingly desirable in order to avoid duplication and curb unnecessary competition. A pan-African network of African book fair directors would work towards creating niches for the different fairs so that each has a different thrust, and would provide a networking forum for strengthening all fairs on the continent.

All the delegates agreed that book fairs are an indispensable part of book promotion and play an important role in book sector development in Africa. Book fairs provide markets for the book trade and are meeting places for the various stakeholders in the industry (authors, publishers, printers, booksellers, librarians, policy makers, readers, etc).

Akin Fasemore, Executive Secretary of the African Publishers Network (APNET), who was unable to attend due to visa problems, sent a contribution in which he underpinned the importance of book fairs as platforms for business and networking among the practitioners. He highlighted that APNET has helped strengthen many of the fairs through its practical support for publishers’ participation, and by organizing skills acquisition seminars and trade events around the fairs. He noted some of the challenges facing book fairs in Africa, including the need for proper planning and publicity, information sharing, a complementary and well-spaced calendar, marketing and customer service, African ethos and the need to avoid over-commercialization of the fairs at the expense of literacy promotion.

Miriam Bamhare of the Zimbabwe Book Development Council talked about national book development councils (NBDCs), which were first introduced by UNESCO after World War II under the slogan ‘Peace Through Education’. UNESCO's primary concern was to ensure access to education in the south. Since the 1990s, NBDCs in Africa have been working towards a collective strategy to support indigenous publishing in Africa.

The Pan African Booksellers Association (PABA), explained Chairperson Oluronke Orimalade, was formed to strengthen the bookselling sector in order to improve access to books in Africa. The Association encourages booksellers to support local book development, strengthens their capacity through skills training, and fosters new national booksellers associations while strengthening existing ones. PABA’s activities frequently centre round book fairs in and outside Africa, hence the organization’s support for the meeting and its willingness to establish partnerships with all book fairs on the continent.

Niyi Osundare, representing the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA), commented on the all-to-frequent exclusion of writers from many book development forums, including book fairs. Authors play an important role in the book trade and should not be ignored. While appreciating the contribution of African book fairs to the promotion of Africa's best works, he stressed the need for publishers to involve the authors more actively in their efforts to project the variety and diversity of African writing.

A number of book fair directors and organizers provided insights into the history and current standing of their fairs. They included Cairo International Book Fair Director Samir Saad Khalil, Chair of the Organising Committee of the Ghana International Book Fair, Woeli Dekutsey, Hasna Reda-Mekdashi on the first Arab Women's Book Fair in Cairo, Director Rachid Jebbouj of SIEL-Casablanca, Chair of the Organising Committee Jimmi Makotsi on the Nairobi International Book Fair (NIBF), Mariétou Diongue Diop, Director of Book and Reading Activities in the Senegalese Ministry of Education, on FILDAK (Dakar), Graeme Bloch of the forthcoming South African International Festival of Books, Bookeish!, and Director of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, Moses Samkange. Contributions from two unavoidably absent book fair directors came from Dayo Alabi, Nigeria International Book Fair and Corneille Monoko, Kinshasa Book Fair.

Building a Network of African Book Fair Directors

The participants agreed unanimously to work towards the establishment of a network that will:

  • solicit for government and donor support in organising African book fairs
  • collaborate with book sector NGOs such as APNET, PAWA, PABA and book development councils in the planning of fair programmes
  • provide centralized training for organizers of African book fairs
  • enhance collaboration among organizers in planning of fairs in order to create a systematic, consistent and complementary African book trade calendar
  • increase exposure of book fair directors through inter-fair exchange visits
  • Support the promotion of books and reading in Africa by organising Pan-African book awards
  • lobby regional economic communities to remove fiscal, physical and legislative barriers to intra-African book trade
  • promote African cultural identity in African book fairs
  • represent African book fairs at the Confederation of World Book Fair Directors.

The mission of the network will be to establish strong, sustainable and well-co-ordinated book fairs which are effective book markets and forums for enhancing Africa’s publishing and information sectors. A taskforce of representatives of APNET, PABA, and selected African international book fairs is working on the next stages, with the Bellagio Publishing Network serving as their secretariat.

This is an abridged version of the meeting report prepared by Ruth Makotsi, consultant to the project - Ed. [end] [BPN, no 31, 2002, p. 4.]

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