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‘African publishing has a good story to tell, but…’

By Japhet Alakam

One of the events that will take the front burner among the major events that will shape the year 2018 in Africa is the 2018 IPA seminar held in Lagos, Nigeria. The seminar was unique in many ways, as seen in the level of organisation, structure, calibre of speakers and issues addressed during the historic one day seminar which had six panels chaired by some of the best hands in the publishing industry with more than 28 speakers.

From left, Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, moderator(standing), Gbenro Adegbola, Adele Nibona, Otunba Olayinka Lawal-Solarin and Lily Nyariki in one of the sessions during the African publishing seminar in Lagos.

Organised by International Publishers Association,IPA, in collaboration with Nigeria Publishers Association, NPA, the event which brought together for the very first time in Nigeria some of the most influential figures in the publishing industry and writers, also afforded participants the opportunity to see and network with some of the big names in the publishing business.

The organisers who have been in the business of publishing for years felt that despite the contributions of publishing to the development of Africa and other nations, various governments/leaders are not giving it the desired support. It was based on the need to come out with a voice that will change the status quo that the theme of the seminar: Publishing for Sustainable Development: The Role of Publishers in Africa, was chosen.

Importance of African publishing

And as expected, the speakers focused on the importance of African publishing and catering to a market where readers worldwide are seeking more diverse voices and books and becoming increasingly interested in other cultures, countries, ideas and lifestyles. They also highlighted the major challenges and opportunities that could dictate the future of the industry across Africa and declared that the publishing industry on the continent is endangered by the activities of pirates and unfavourable government policies, shortage of books, illiteracy and poor infrastructure, amongst others.

In their contributions,the speakers in the various sessions highlighted the tangible and intangible contributions of the publishing industry in Africa which include the contribution to GDP, growth in literacy level, employment, promotion of culture, etc. They also mentioned some of the challenges which include bad government policies, lack of capacity-building, lack of government support, not having a data of their contributions to the government and others.

They did not just point out only the problems, they also suggested solutions to some of the issues raised above. They agreed that government support is key to the development of publishing, and so, there is need to re-order the contribution of government in order to know more about it and be able to hold government accountable for all they do. They also noted that the body will not relent but must continue to speak out. But, some observers were not happy with the absence of key government officials in a forum where such issues that concern the educational development of the continent is discussed.

How such issues would be transmitted to them and how they would react becomes another challenge.

Earlier in his opening remarks at the event which has over 28 international panelists representing many of the IPA’s 76 organisations from 65 countries, Gbadega  Adedapo, president of the Nigerian Publishers Association and member of IPA’s Executive Committee stated: “Publishing, literacy, and access to books are prerequisites for success in life and the development of our countries and continent. We must always remember that strong publishing industries and national cultures of reading are the foundations for socio-economic development and are critical for progress.” He encouraged the industry to shout louder about its value, estimating its annual turnover at around $1 billion and called on participants to use the seminar to come up with a Lagos Action Plan 2018 to help carry the African publishing industry forward.

On his part, IPA President, Dr Michiel Kolman, who used the medium to underline the connected nature of the publishing industry in a globalised world, told the audience that “Almost none of our challenges exist in isolation. We can all learn from each other. The challenges faced in Nigeria today may be those faced somewhere else tomorrow. And the solutions of one government may inspire another.”

He also warned against African governments being used as proxies in big tech companies’ efforts to undermine copyright.

President of the Emirates Publishers Association and member of the IPA’s Executive Committee, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, who drew proceedings to a close harped on the importance of strong local publishing industry both culturally and economically. She said that the African publishing industry has enormous potential for the future, including building essential cultural bridges with the rest of the world. She also announced that the Kenyan Publishers Association had offered to host the next IPA seminar for sustainable development of Africa next year in Nairobi.

The seminar’s six panels covered a range of issues including: The Socio-economic Contribution of the Publishing Industry in Africa; Strengthening Educational Publishing in Africa; Bringing the Voice of African Writers, Publishers and Content Creators to the World; The Role of Technology in Overcoming Illiteracy and Promoting a Reading Culture; Addressing Freedom to Publish Challenges in Africa; and Enhancing Enforcement of Copyright and IP Laws, was chaired by Mr Samuel Kolawole, Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, Masennya Dikotla, Bibi Bakere-Yusuf, Lawrence Njagi  and Folu Agoi.


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