By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Bodour: ‘Quite a Journey’Reflecting a panel discussion on “Transforming African Libraries,” the Sharjah International Book Fair Publishers Conference concluded today (October 29) with a 3.5-hour focus on the work that the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the African Publishers Network (APNET) are doing to strengthen and promote the African continent’s many publishing markets.
In her closing comments, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, here both a host for the Sharjah International Book Fair and its surrounding events and vice-president of the IPA, thanked “all the publishers and organizations that supply books to libraries and who recognize their importance.”
Bodour, who is the founder of the PublisHer series of networking events for women in publishing (that link is to the program’s new site), also had several numbers to report to the conference audience.
“Allow me to make one little observation,” she said. “The first two days” of the conference “were organized by the Sharjah Book Authority. And in terms of speakers and chairs, you may have noticed that men outnumbered women by 20 to nine.
“Today’s session, also organized by the Sharjah Book Authority but with input from the International Publishers Association and—ahem—its vice-president,” she said, referring to herself, had a “ratio of nine women to eight men.
“‘Just saying,’ as the teenagers like to put it,” Bodour said, to a round of laughter and applause.
The next PublisHer dinner, we should inject here, will occur here during the Sharjah book fair, but has had a date change from November 1 to November 7, and we’ll have more for you on that closer to the date.
“We worked with the publishers associations in these three countries to put together programs that informed and inspired, and I’m delighted with what we’ve achieved. The Lagos seminar in 2018 resulted in the Lagos Action Plan and a Lagos Action Plan Committee, which came up with several recommendations.
“And up top of that, we were also able to secure more than US$1 million in financial support, including $800,000 from Dubai Cares in the United Arab Emirates, who we heard from this morning.
“I’d like to extend a special thanks to Samuel Kolawole, chair of APNET, the African Publishers Network, with whom we worked so closely, and to Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares. Without both of these individuals and their respective organizations none of this would have happened.
“It’s been quite a journey and along the way, we’ve been enjoying our evolving names.
“The Lagos Action Plan Committee has now become the Africa Action Plan Committee–not the ANC, but the AAC–and this committee will develop the Africa Action Plan, which will look at pilot projects to be presented at our next Africa seminar in Morocco in 2020.
“Only we’re not calling it a ‘seminar’ any more. In acknowledgement of the wide scope and large attendance at these events, we’re adopting the word ‘conference.”
Bodour also took time to outline the IPA’s interest and ambitions it its still new and growing series of these regional conferences, which have largely been spearheaded as an element of her
“I believe that it is in these emerging markets that the readers of the future are to be found.”Bodour Al Qasimi, IPA
“First, I believe that Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, are the places to watch. They have the growth potential. They are attracting more attention on the global stage as publishing and pop culture become more globalized. And, of course, the device in our pockets is only making this happen more quickly.
“Second, I believe that it is in these emerging markets that the readers of the future are to be found. Around 90 percent of the global population under 30 is in emerging markets, with Africa and the Middle East having the highest proportions.
“Emerging and developing markets also account for almost 60 percent of global GDP, up from just under half only a decade ago. These are the book buyers of the future and it’s our duty as publishers to provide them with the material they need so that they can lead successful, fulfilled lives.
“The IPA’s Africa seminars have been successful in kickstarting action on the ground. The new Africa Action Committee will agree on joint initiatives with the African Publishers Network and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, and it will encourage responses to the ‘Pulse of the African Publishing Industry Survey’ which was sent out after the Lagos seminar.”
In closing, Bodour quoted Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who spoke at the Nairobi event, saying, “What’s good about writing is that when you write novels or short fiction, people can see that the problems in one region are similar to problems in another region.”
Setzer: ‘Consequential Challenges’
And in the opening minutes of the morning, IPA president Hugo Setzer had echoed many of these thoughts, thanking Sharjah Book Authority chair Ahmed Al Ameri for his support, and remarking on how many “familiar names and faces” were onstage in Sharjah after having participated in the Nairobi seminar in June.
Setzer made a special point of referencing the critical partnership between publishers and authors.
“We are convinced that we need authors,” Setzer said, “and that authors are better off with established publishers. And we both face nowadays consequential challenges in regard to copyright and freedom to publish.”
Setzer also referenced the importance of the day’s news with the unexpected announcement of grants being made by the new African Publishing Innovation Fund created in May by IPA and Dubai cares. Our separate report on that is here.
And he pointed to the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, ADEA, “which is one of our strategic partners in the region,” Setzer said, “and the Global Partnership for Education.”
From these organizations, he pointed out, we know that “Africa is currently the youngest continent in the world, Setzer told the Shajah audience. “Over the next few decades, young Africans will play a critical role in the social and economic development of the continent. Ensuring they receive a quality education will be key.”
“There are misunderstandings and stereotypes about the Arab world, about Africa, about Latin America.”Hugo Setzer, IPA
Setzer also briefly conceded the frequently difficult topic of perceptions of the region led in its literary development by Sharjah, saying, “There are misunderstandings and stereotypes about the Arab world, about Africa, about Latin America.
“The renowned Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about the danger of a single story. There are unfortunately still so many ‘single stories’ that show partial and biased views of a complex and diverse world. We need more stories that embrace the world’s complexity and diversity. We need to inspire authors to write them and publishers to invest in them. And for that inspiration to take hold, we need to read and create a love of reading.
“Lebanese author, journalist, and civil rights activist Joumana Haddad says, ‘There is no future for the Arab world without reading.’ I wholeheartedly agree with her in this regard.
“But I’d take it even further and say that without reading there’s no future for humanity. And we also need to come together to learn more about each other, to be able to support each other to successfully deal with the global challenges we face. ”
Setzer concluded by returning to the April opening of Sharjah’s timely designation by UNESCO as this year’s World Book Capital, and to the thematic slogan for the year’s activities in the first Arabian city to capture the honor; ”
Open a book, open your arms, your heart, your mind.”