Côte d’Ivoire’s Isabelle Kassi Fofana: Publishing’s Need for ‘Reliable Data’

In News by Porter Anderson

‘We need a true national book policy that recognizes the importance of reliable data,’ Isabelle Kassi Fofana will tell the IPA’s Africa Seminar in Nairobi.

A view of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, with St. Paul’s Cathedral, a modern structure completed in 1985. Image – iStockphoto, AroundTheWorld

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

‘It Will Take Political Will’
At next week’s International Publishers Association‘s (IPA)  “Africa Rising” seminar in Nairobi, hosted by the  Kenya Publishers Association, one of the most potentially pivotal sessions will be titled “Data Innovation: Developing Data and Statistical Capabilities to Support the Publishing and Creative Industries.”

Our interview with Nielsen Book Research International’s Andre Breedt yesterday (June 5) revealed that on the African continent, Nielsen is tracking book market data only in South Africa.

As Breedt said, preparatory to his own presentation at the seminar in Nairobi, the many markets of Africa are studying “the benefits of having centralized metadata and [an accurate picture of] sales in order to help you manage the supply chain—how that could work and how it could help the African markets to leverage their strengths, also helping consumers.”

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

Immediately following Breedt’s presentation on the topic, the “Data Innovation” session will take up the issues involved, looking at what organizers describe as “a widespread agreement that the publishing and cultural industries can be a major driver of sustainable development and economic growth.”

There are complexities to setting up the coordinated reporting that comes into play with good data collection, of course, and they include in some cases mobilizing government industry support, as well as gaining buy-in from both publishing and bookseller/retail elements of each market.

Publishing Perspectives, for today’s exchange on the topic, has been in touch with Isabelle Kassi Fofana, who is president of the Akwaba Culture Association in Cote D’Ivoire and the director of one of the country’s largest publishing house, FratMat Editions. The company produces children’s books and adult literature as well as educational content.

She has led the Akwaba organization’s key development, the Ivory Prize for African Literature in French. Created in 2008, this awards program is given direct governmental support through the district of Abidjan, as well as support from the Embassy of France in Côte d’Ivoire. The prize has been recognized by ECOWAS with an award in 2009 for its contributions to the region’s cultural life.

Two endeavors fall under the award’s banner:

  • A school literary culture competition which brings together French and Ivorian high school students
  • The gala presentation of the Ivory Prize in an annual ceremony that draws the cultural leadership and publishing industry players

The program also includes a literary forum with participation from journalists and literary figures, as well as an exhibition documenting the work of leading lights in Ivorian literature and work from other parts of Africa. The organization lists as its goals for the Ivory Prize program:

  • Promotion of literature and authors from Africa
  • Support for the establishment of the presence of African work in world literature
  • Visibility for Côte d’Ivoire as a major center of belles lettres africaines
  • Publication of worthy content
  • Promotion of reading among young people

Kassi’s awards program has a relationship with the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize, which has been based since 2004 at the Geneva Book Fair, and the Kourouma program participates in the awards ceremony at Abidjan.

‘We Need To Go to the Basics’

We begin by asking Kassi what her experience is, in terms of the availability of data on the output and status of Côte d’Ivoire’s book business. Her answers come to us in translation from the French:

Isabelle Kassi Fofana

Isabelle Kassi Fofana: The book sector in Côte d’Ivoire has very little to no reliable data that can allow us to project ourselves into the future and be effective.

The only data or elements of assessments were conducted by private initiatives, which are therefore unreliable.

Publishing Perspectives:  What could you do with more and better data if you had it available?

IFK: If we had more data of good quality, we could use it to better guide our actions and our literary projects. We need to be able to go to the basics if we’re to be really more effective and useful to people.

It would also enable us to realize the potential and importance of the book supply chain.

PP: What do you think it will take to get more data of the kind you and your colleagues need?

IFK:  It will take political will to see us through this process, because it requires great resources. We need a true national book policy that recognizes the urgency and importance of having reliable data.

PP: That being the case, what’s the key message that you expect to bring to the session on data in the IPA “Africa Rising” seminar at Nairobi this month?

IFK: I will make a strong appeal to book professionals and especially decision-makers on the importance of having reliable data on the book trade and its progress, at home and abroad.

Joining Isabelle Kassi Fofana on the panel on June 15 will be:

  • Monica Aba Brew-Hammond, senior lecturer with the department of publishing studies at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana)
  • Pali Lehohla, former statistician general and former head of statistics for South Africa
  • Zachary Mwangi, director genera with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics
  • And, moderating, Samuel Kolawole, the chair of the African Publishers Network  based in Nigeria

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

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 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.