Brian Wafawarowa on ‘Africa Rising’: Inclusive Publishing and Literacy

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As the International Publishers Association’s Africa Seminar in Nairobi moves into its second day, the IPA’s lead on inclusivity and literacy looks at issues and trends.

A panel on digital disruption in African publishing was a highlight of the first day of the International Publishers Association’s ‘Africa Rising’ symposium in Nairobi. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘A Few Major Challenges’
Late in the first day of the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) “Africa Rising” seminar in Nairobi, hosted by the Kenya Publishers Association, Brian Wafawarowa called out what had clearly developed as perhaps the most compelling theme of the day’s discussions.

Click here to download a free copy of our “Africa Rising” edition for the Nairobi seminar.

The president of the Publishers Association of South Africa and an executive committee member of the IPA, Wafawarowa spoke of several of the key moments of the day—of the keynote address from Ngũg wa Thiong’o, of the discussion of self-censorship led by IPA’s Kristenn Einarsson, of the copyright challenges that seem to grow as thick as the grasses of Kenya around her publishing industry.

And Wafawarowa recalled from the stage a story from when his son was “still very young and impressionable” being told, “Trying to explore the world through another language, whether it’s English or anything else, is like chopping off your legs” and then trying to navigate your life and on crutches.

What had come to the fore during the day as a kind of uber-theme was the urgent importance to so many in the African publishing community of indigenous languages, the many often tribally based language systems that are being shoved aside and rolled over by the hegemony of English and other major world languages.

A purpose, a mission, a trust was being explored in the Nairobi conference room all day, as speaker after speaker, in one session or another, touched on questions of how not only creativity but fundamental identity can be rooted in one’s own most profound linguistic heritage—and how there may be no more powerfully placed industry or art than publishing and literature to address this.

On the second day of this packed agenda here in Kenya,  a specific panel focuses on this, as Elinor Silulu of the Puku Foundation and others discuss “Lost Tongues: The Struggle To Preserve Indigenous African Languages.”

And this will be only one of many pressing focal points of this second of two days, culminating in a gala dinner.

In her opening remarks today, the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi—the IPA vice-president who has spearheaded the development and programming of the Africa Seminars series—mentioned that the IPA’s new US$800,000 partnership with Dubai Cares includes among its intended project areas the issues of African indigenous publishing.

In addition to the endangerment of local languages and their place in education and literature, of course, many other points of emphasis are on the agenda.

Wafawarowa: ‘Publishing in Africa Has Made Huge Strides’

As we open this second day of programming, we’re pleased to have a quick interview with Wafawarowa, a kind of scene setter from one of the specialists in the room who, with his commanding position in the IPA leadership, is able to look at the continent’s challenges both from within and without

We begin our exchange by asking Wafawarowa whether amid such a plethora of interests and issues it’s even possible to sketch out some of the things most important for publishing to come into its own more forcefully on the world stage today.

Brian Wafawarowa: Publishing in Africa has made huge strides in the last two decades with almost all the books that are used in education being written and developed locally. These books respond directly and effectively to the needs of African learners and play a critical role in improving learner outcomes in schools.

Brian Wafawarowa

In the general book sector, a lot of progress has also been made, with many African publishers producing quality books, for which they have been selling rights to their global counterparts. This progress was made during a period where we saw greater liberalisation of the book sector with decreasing state monopolies.

However, today African publishing faces a few major challenges. These challenges can reverse most of these gains.

The genesis of these problems is the quest for universal coverage of learners’ textbooks and greater access to information.

Governments across the continent are responding to this challenge with new policies that are often detrimental to the book sector.

These policies include copyright amendment programs and severe restrictions on the number of books that are approved for use in schools. The copyright amendment laws seek broad copyright protection exceptions for educational, libraries and archives. Many countries are looking into reducing the number of titles approved for education to as little as one and others are contemplating state publishing.

While many would argue that this is aimed at education mainly, the impact for a book sector where 80 to 95 percent of the market is education is going to be massive. Many general book publishers also sell their books to schools and libraries.

Publishing Perspectives:  When it comes to textbook policies, what’s your sense of the three or four key challenges in that arena?

“Governments across the continent are” enacting “new policies that are often detrimental to the book sector. These policies include copyright amendment programs and severe restrictions” on approved books for schools.”Brian Wafawarowa, Publishers Association of South Africa, IPA

BW: The key challenges for education publishing include the quest for universal coverage; detrimental policy reform; copyright amendments with broader exceptions for educational and the return of state publishing and state monopolies as mentioned above.

The other issue which is related to that one is gearing for the digital age and e-learning. Some of the proposed copyright reforms are aimed at ensuring that society and education benefit more from technological innovations. Some of these programs are driven by big tech companies, which would like to access content more easily under broader fair use provisions in order to enter the education markets.

The high powered panelists we had on Friday (June 14) were quite diverse and included former and current government ministers and administrators and publishers. It’s important that everyone help work out collaborative solutions that can lead to greater access for learners and users without harming the industry that’s so crucial for education and social development.

PP:  And while weve spoken with Gbadega Adedapo of Nigeria about the Action Plan from Lagos, do you expect there to be a Nairobi Action Plan coming out of this year’s seminar, as well?

In the IPA Africa Seminars, “One of the activities that we need to undertake is to identify the common problems coming out of the different seminars and integrate them into one action program.”Brian Wafawarowa, Publishers Association of South Africa, IPA

BW: I think the issues that will be raised at every seminar as we go forward will be quite similar, and as such there is a need to consolidate them. It’s clear that the practical programs that came out of the Lagos seminar will still be running beyond the Nairobi seminar.

So one of the activities that we need to undertake is to identify the common problems coming out of the different seminars and integrate them into one action program, and add new issues that come up in subsequent seminars. Nairobi and subsequent seminars will also allow us to determine the changes in urgency and help us reprioritise our activities.

PP: And tell us a bit about the Inclusive Publishing and Literacy Committee of the International Publishers Association.

“The VAT report looks at value added tax on books and related products across the world with a view to encourage governments to remove or reduce VAT on books.”Brian Wafawarowa, IPA Inclusive Publishig and Literacy Committee

BW: The Inclusive Publishing and Literacy (IPL) Committee is the IPA’s effort to reach out more to the communities that we work with and diversify our activities and stakeholder range. To that end, the committee looks at and runs programs on literacy and inclusivity.

These include programs like the World Book Capital with UNESCO, which selects one city every year to celebrate books and reading. [As Publishing Perspectives readers know the current UNESCO World Book Capital is Sharjah, the first Arabian location to have this designation.]

The program seeks to promote and foster reading and celebrate books and literacy with major book and reading events.

  • The VAT report looks at value added tax on books and related products across the world with a view to encourage governments to remove or reduce VAT on books.
  • The industry statistics project tracks global book output. All these activities form part of our advocacy program.
  • Our other outreach program is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Book Club that we’re undertaking with the United Nations. The project selects and promotes children’s books in all the six UN languages about each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The idea is to foster appreciation of the SDGs among young people while at the same time improving reading and literacy.
  • We’re also planning to carry out research on reading and literacy trends with a view to promoting more reading among the communities that we work with.
  • And finally we want to launch rural library projects in underprivileged communities. This will include providing reading space and books in these communities.

The IPL Committee program partners with organizations that work in the different areas of our endeavors, including the International Board for Books for Young People (iBBY), various sponsors, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the United Nations, UNESCO ,and others.

IPA Freedom to Publish Committee chair Kristenn Einarsson, right, leads a discussion of self-censorship in publishing on June 14 at the Nairobi ‘Africa Rising’ seminar. Image: Porter Anderson


More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, more from us on its ‘Africa Rising’ Nairobi seminar is here, and more on African publishing markets and issues is here. More from us on copyright issues is here.

Our special magazine for the International Publishers Association’s (IPA) “Rising Africa” 2019 seminar has been printed by Modern Lithographic Kenya and is being provided in print to delegates as the conference convenes on June 14 and 15 in Nairobi.

We hope you’ll download a free copy here in PDF and join us in welcoming the second annual IPA Africa Seminars event, an important new series in world publishing.

In this new magazine, you’ll find commentary from the IPA leadership, from key stakeholders in the 2018 seminar at Lagos produced with the Nigerian Publishers Association, and from our hosts at this year’s event produced in cooperation with the Kenya Publishers Association. There also are insights from speakers in this week’s program and background coverage on publishing in Africa from Publishing Perspectives.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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