Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 31, November 2002 



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

This issue, like the lives of all of us who knew him, is achingly overshadowed by the loss of Chief Victor Nwankwo, engineer, writer, publisher, campaigner, visionary and, above all, a remarkable human being imbued with the spirit of ubuntu. His brutal death in Nigeria has shocked and enraged a profession that is more accustomed to publishing books about violence and intrigue than experiencing it in real life. As yet we do not know whether the murder was connected in any way to Chief Nwankwo's publishing activities. Whatever the particular motive for this particular crime, whether political intrigue or mindless violence, it comes as a stark reminder of the perilous conditions under which many of our colleagues labour.

Chief Nwankwo was cautiously optimistic about the possibilities for democracy in Nigeria when Abacha's murderous rule finally ended. But it was an angry man who arrived in Oxford this June for the Bellagio Publishing Network meeting, bringing with him a report he had commissioned on our behalf about Nigeria's International Book Fair. It was so openly critical of the Nigerian government, and so scathing about its officials, that we double-checked about publishing it as it stood. `Every word', replied Victor, `Don't change anything.' We make no apology for piling on the criticism of Nigeria's government with Niyi Osundare's attack, while his writer's view of publishers should, we hope, provoke illuminating responses.

Book fairs provide intriguing snapshots of the state of publishing at a particular time in a particular place. In the 1980s Africa's only consistently functioning book fairs were in Egypt and Zimbabwe. Today, according to the APNET trade calendar, there are at least 15 regular book fairs on the continent, ranging from book week festivals to national, regional and international fairs. This issue covers three very different fairs that each reflect the specificities of their location _ Nigeria, already referred to above; the First Alexandria International Book Fair, linked to the spectacular rebirth of Africa's most famous library of antiquity, and at which not a single African country other than Egypt was represented; and Bookeish!, planned for 2004, an event that aims to address the special needs of post-apartheid South Africa, and which we fervently hope will reach out to the rest of Africa as much as to the north.

It was Moses Samkange of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair who first thought of setting up a network of African book fair directors, in order to address the many issues that they face in a more co-operative fashion than happens at the moment. APNET and PABA have ably demonstrated the professional value of networking among publishers and booksellers. The nascent network of African book fair directors and the proposed association of African scholarly journal editors reported on in this issue are undoubtedly good news for publishing and book development in Africa.

Book Aid International continues its sterling work in books and library support for development by facilitating the workshop reported on here, fostering co-operation among different players in the book chain. The African Book Collective's agreement with Michigan State University Press for North American distribution is a milestone in the dissemination of African-published books in the north. CODESRIA's important initiative in developing a truly African Africa Review of Books is especially welcome as part of the long struggle for African voices to be heard internationally on African terms.

Kwasi Darko-Ampem's policy review of publishing for secondary education in Ghana raises many issues that are pertinent beyond Ghana's borders. His particular focus is the new policy privatizing educational publishing that was announced in December 2001. Significantly, Ghana has no national book policy. Policies that affect indigenous publishing are a primary focus of this network and we look forward to carrying more policy-oriented articles.

On the surface, publishing output in the Democratic Republic of Congo belies all trends. In the teeth of prolonged armed conflict and political turmoil, the number of titles published in the past decade puts the DRC among the most productive countries in Francophone Africa in terms of publishing. But when Cassiau-Haurie dug deeper it was to discover disturbing discrepancies between the number of published works and size of reading public.

The recent meeting of the Bellagio Publishing Network was convened to review our original mission and explore possible ways forward. Several of the organizations within the network, both southern and northern based, now run significant programmes aimed at strengthening indigenous southern publishing. Discussions centred on how to complement and enhance existing work. Information-sharing remains a priority for the participating organizations within the Bellagio Publishing Network, as does the need to define roles more clearly. The resounding message from the meeting was the value in continuing to participate in the forum that the Bellagio Publishing Network provides, helping all of us work more effectively towards the common goal of strengthening indigenous publishing in the south.[end] [BPN no 31, 2002, p. 2.]

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