Books for Africa Reports Its Largest Year in Shipped Copies

In News by Dennis Abrams5 Comments

Ethiopia is the leading recipient of donated content from Books for Africa, according to an update from the 30-year-old charity.

A shipment from Books for Africa to the Open University in Tanzania includes a law and human rights library delivered as part of the charity’s Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative. Image: Books for Africa

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

Books Delivered Include 223,000 Digital Copies
A charity based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Books For Africa, has announced that in a record-breaking year, more than 3.1 million educational, library, and law books have been shipped to 18 African countries, a 26-percent increase over last year.

With a reported value of more than $33 million, Books For Africa states that it has shipped nearly 636,000 more books than it did last year. Its books shipments have included 10 libraries in the Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative. That initiative’s co-chairmen are Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general, and Walter Mondale, former US vice-president.

The nonprofit’s fiscal year ends June 30. In addition to books, Books For Africa reports that it has also shipped 93 computers and e-readers containing 223,000 digital books.

Books For Africa’s promotional information classifies it as the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent. Since its founding in 1988, organizers say, the program has sent 39 million books to 49 different countries.

The top recipient countries of the last fiscal year were:

  • Ethiopia: 462,000 books
  • Nigeria: 319,000 books
  • Kenya: 308,000 books
  • Ghana: 242,000 books

Books For Africa has worked in partnership with a number of organizations to ship and distribute more books, including the Peace Corps; U.S. embassies in Africa; Out of Print Books; Better World BooksUSAID (United States Agency for International Development); WorldreaderThomson Reuters; and Little Free Library.

The organization is currently making plans to celebrate its 30th anniversary in January with a hike up Table Mountain near Cape Town. The hike is to be led by Tom Warth, the founder of Books for Africa, who started the organization in 1988 after visiting a new library in Jinja, Uganda, and finding that it had few books to offer.

In its prepared statement, the organization cites figures showing that there are more than 500 million young people in Africa, and quotes Warth, saying, “Despite the 39 million books [delivered so far], we still have a lot of work to do to end the book famine on the continent.”

Executive director Patrick Plonski is also quoted, saying that the program is “proud of breaking a record last year by sending more than three million books to the students of Africa. We will continue to expand our efforts and increase our book shipments so we can put books into the hands of every child in Africa.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.


  1. This is very BAD news indeed. Every single book shipped into Africa undermines efforts to create a sustainable African publishing industry. Every single book shipped into Africa and donated to libraries is a book not produced by African publishers and printers, not written by African authors, not sold and distributed by African booksellers.
    This is NOT a way to end the book famine in Africa. It is a surefire way to make it last.

  2. Dear Holger. Thank you for your comments. It is true that it is important to keep the African publishing industry, African authors, and African booksellers strong. African content and Africa authors should indeed be published and sourced locally. That said, it is also true that our program compliments books provided by African publishers and African authors. You say that “every single books shipped into Africa undermines efforts to create a sustainable African publishing industry.” Really? Do we really want to reprint in Africa, for example, college textbooks — very expensive — that are readily available for donation? I don’t think so.

    1. Dear Patrick, of course I see your point. No, nobody wants you to reprint US textbooks in Africa. What is needed is support for developing such textbooks IN Africa, along the chain of author, publisher, printer and distributor. Only if this chain can be established and maintained will we have a hope in hell to develop a functioning and sustainable book industry in Africa.
      Donating books does not incentivise African governments to invest in the creation of a publishing industry – on the contrary, it undermines our African colleagues who have been pleading with their authorities for many years to prioritise books.
      You mention the high costs of printing in Africa, but these are of course the result of so few things being printed, which in turn increases the fixed costs portion per item. I have dealt with NGOs, especially in West Africa, for many years, and they all despair over the lack of adequate printing facilities in the region. Book donations do not solve this problem, they make it grow.

  3. Dear Holger. I agree with your assessment that ULTIMATELY the solution to the shortage of books in Africa is enhanced published and book development IN Africa. Regretfully, that may not happen until enhanced economic development allows for more robust public sector financing allowing for more local book purchases by ministries of education. Also, increased economic development will allow for more book purchases by the general public. However, I don’t find it reasonable to lose of generation of children and force them to go without any books until such time as more funding and availability of local books meets the enormous need that exists. Yes, let’s support local publishing and development. But until these efforts increase the local supply of books, we will continue to ship donated books.

    1. I share Holger Ehling’s views. You are talking about a situation ULTIMATELY, but how about PRESENTLY? What you don’t address, or don’t seem to want to address, are the negative consequences today, of overseas book aid organizations shipping tens of millions of free books annually to African libraries and schools. These negative consequences relate to the weakening of the viability and prosperity of African publishers through limiting their reach into their own markets for which they are publishing. Supplies of donated books from overseas can significantly suppress demand for locally published books because many African governments rely on overseas book charities to fill book shelves in schools and libraries, and which has created a huge culture of culture of dependency on overseas book donation programmes. Meantime many high quality, culturally relevant books published locally may remain stacked in African publishers’ warehouses while huge quantities of externally donated books are distributed to libraries because they are free.

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