Is the Internet Africa’s “Gutenberg Moment?”

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s lead story looks at the pivotal role Farafina Books is playing in the changing landscape of Nigerian and African publishing. Last November, as part of African Literature Week in Oslo, Norway, Farafina owner Muhtar Bakare (pictured on the right) gave a speech in which he stated that the Internet represented Africa’s “Gutenberg Moment.” (You can read our coverage of the event here.) “The Internet is going to democratize knowledge in Africa,” he said.

Indeed, it is possible that Bakare could very well be right.

Working in Lusaka, Zambia as a journalist in 1998, I remember seeing the look on people’s faces as I logged on to the Web from one of the first available dial-up connections (then available only through the University of Zambia) and showed some friends the Internet for the first time. The reaction was, in a word, awe, which was quickly followed by a hunger to learn more.

This was when the few sources of media in Lusaka — save for the library at the University and the British Council — were the meager offerings on local television (dominated by soccer matches and soap operas), the thin local newspaper, and radio, which was perhaps the most reliable source of information. Amazon.com, in particular, proved a popular site among my friends, as did a South African site offering reasonably priced Leatherman multitools.

Of course, that was then and this is now. The Internet — spread via increasingly affordable cell phone, satellite and land line coverage — is reaching even further into the even remote regions of Africa than ever before. It provides, just as in the West, lost cost options for publishing, education, and information dissemination. That said, it is by no means ubiquitous. Africa still needs books, desperately, but the Internet does offer opportunities never seen before.

What do you think? Are there African Internet publishing projects that you feel have had a significant impact on their communities? (Tell us about them.) Will the Web connect Africans to Africans and Africa to the West in numbers even greater than before?

Let us know in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.