At Frankfurt: The IPA Puts a ‘Spotlight on Africa’

In News by Olivia Snaije

The IPA Africa Publishing Innovation Fund’s ‘Spotlight on Africa’ program at Frankfurt: Issues and Publishers.

From left, speakers in the International Publishers Association’s ‘Spotlight on Africa’ program are, from left, Elinor Sisulu of Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, South Africa; Bushiratu Alira Kumuriwor of Learners Girls Foundation, Ghana; Amos Kipeen of OliveSeed Kenya; Amina Hachimi Aloui of Yanbow Al Kitab, Morocco; and Angela Wachuka, publisher of Book Bunk, Kenya. Image: IPA, Nabs Ahmedi

By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

‘Making Books Affordable’
The Africa Publishing Innovation Fund collective stand at Frankfurter Buchmessewhich this week is showcasing publishing innovators from African markets—held a morning-long event on Thursday (October 20) called Spotlight on Africa, in association with the International Publishers Association (IPA). The Africa Publishing Innovation Fund is a project developed by the IPA with Dubai Cares’ Tarik Al Gurg.

Topics covered were the promotion of inclusive publishing in Africa; education and reading on the African continent; and transforming libraries.

Two young publishers, both authors—one from anglophone Africa, the other from francophone Africa were among those attending the event.

Kenya’s Koinange and Wachuka

Wanjiru Koinange of Book Bunk and Bunk Books in Kenya, at Frankfurter Buchmesse’s ‘Spotlight on Africa.’ Image: Publishing Perspectives, Olivia Snaije

Wanjiru Koinange of the two-year-old publishing company Bunk Books is also a founding partner of Book Bunk, a Nairobi-based nonprofit established in 2017 to restore the city’s public libraries and make them accessible to the public as cultural spaces.

Koinange’s Bunk Books and her Book Bunk co-founder Angela Wachuka moderated a panel on education and books in Africa, while Koinange moderated a final panel on transforming African libraries.

Koinange and Wachuka founded their publishing company during the pandemic, in 2020 and so far have published two books; a debut novel by Koinange, and a children’s book written by the Kenyan actress Lupita Nyango with illustration by Vashti Harrison.

Koinange’s book, The Havoc of Choice, is about family and politics, she said, and has been sold to Jacaranda Books in England. It has been translated into Arabic and published by Rewayat Books, an imprint of Sharjah’s Kalimat Group in the United Arab Emirates.

Nyango’s book, for ages 4 to 9, has been translated into Swahili and Luo, Nyango’s native language. Koinange said they’re focusing on East Africa for distribution, and will continue to publish in several Kenyan languages.

Koinange said that much publishing savvy comes from her partner Wachuka, who was the executive director of East Africa’s leading literary organization, Kwani Trust, for nearly 10 years. There, she published authors including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nuruddin Farah, and Ayobami Adebayo.

So far, the partners report having a team of 30 people working on their libraries restoration program. They are developing the publishing company on their own. 

Togo’s Koffivi Assem: ‘Real Books’

Togo’s Koffivi Assem of Ago Media at Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Olivia Snaije

Koffivi Assem from Togo said he started out in the publishing business 10 years ago, but as an author nearly a decade earlier.

He began by writing fairy tales and stories for children during a writing residency in France. He became inspired to start a publishing African manga.

Assem and his co-founder, the illustrator KanAd, started an initiative called Ago Fiction with four manga magazines, but as he visited books fairs in Europe, he said, “I understood that we could go farther.”

They founded the Lomé-based publishing house, Editions Ago in 2012 as part of Ago Media, a collective of young writers and illustrators who work in animation, advertising, and comics.

“We didn’t just want to be a dynamic young group,” Assem said. “We wanted to make real books.

Ten years later, Editions Ago publishes up to five books a year and has several imprints:

  • BD Junior, comics for eight to 12-year-olds
  • Le Petit Griot, for 4 to 8-year-olds
  • Découverte, for 4 to 6-year-olds
  • Afrique en BD, African history in comic book form, for ages 13 and older

Assem discovered the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund at Bologna Children’s Book Fair, a trade show he attends annually. He said he was interested to find that funding might be available for a later project.

The most important thing for me,” he said, “is not to make money but to make enough not to sink—to be able to continue.

Making books affordable for children and young adults is essential to Assem, who keeps the price of his books around US6.

“Making books available for people is very important,” he said, “but people shouldn’t think that books are free.

One title, Mariées trop tôt (Married Too Soon) was published recently by Ago Media in partnership with Save the Children and an NGO based in Togo. It’s focused on the subject of girls in Africa being married off while too young, a topic that addressed during the Spotlight on Africa program at Frankfurt.

The International Publishers Association and Africa Publishing Innovation Fund team at Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: IPA, Nabs Ahmedi

Our Frankfurter Buchmesse Show Magazine now is out—in print on the Messe Frankfurt for trade visitors and exhibitors, and here in a free digital download for our world readership online.

The magazine has extensive coverage of issues and trends that are leading discussions and debates at the trade show this year, along with interviews, profiles, and commentary in this strongly attended Frankfurt year. Click here for your download (PDF).

More on the International Publishers Association is here, more on the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund is here, more on publishing in Africa is here, more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on book fairs and trade shows is here. Porter Anderson contributed to this article.

Publishing Perspectives is the global media partner of the International Publishers Association.

More from us on the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.