Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 29, December 2001 



Katherine Salahi
Coordinator, Bellagio Publishing Network

'You should have seen the delegates dancing the night away in the mud!', said Ian Randle, founding President of the Caribbean Publishers Network (CAPNET). 'And still they all turned up promptly the following morning for the workshops.' As Jeremy Taylor's report so vividly describes, the first CAPNET conference was a lively and truly pan-Caribbean affair which gave real impetus to CAPNET's avowed aims of strengthening indigenous publishing in the region. The long list of 'crucial areas for urgent action' within the next three years underlines how much this network has to achieve, and how timely is its existence. The fact that so many delegates turned up in spite of the hurricane, and more especially in spite of the region's history of fragmentation by colonial history and language, bears eloquent testimony to the perceived need for intra-regional co-operation as the way forward. It is also testimony to the sheer hard work of CAPNET's founding team.

The choice of CAPNET's conference title - 'Reclaiming our own voices' - resonates with the aims and aspirations of so many African as well as Caribbean publishers. Corneille Monoko sat quietly shaking his head at a meeting in Brazil while another speaker made the assumption publicly that the Democratic Republic of Congo was a country without books, never mind publishers. As Director of Kinshasa's 5th Book Fair Monoko had hot-footed it from Kinshasa to Salvador-Bahia as one event ended and the other began. There is much to be done to improve book provision and the publishing industry in Congo, Monoko agreed. But locally published books do exist, published by Congolese publishers; 450 titles in 2001, all deposited in the National Library. In other words, in spite of the terrible conflict, writers continue to write, publishers publish, booksellers sell and readers read. We hope this heartening and reassuring news is followed by the news of stronger intra-African links with APNET and other publishers.

Sulaiman Adebowale's report on the INASP seminar 'Strengthening biomedical publishing in developing countries' raises crucial issues to do with scholarly publishing in Africa. The seminar focused on biomedical journals publishing and various efforts aimed at correcting the acute information imbalance between north and south. INASP is to be commended for its support for African-published scientific journals. By making possible the participation of James Falaiye, African Journal of Reproductive Health (AJRH)'s Managing Editor, as a speaker at the seminar, the mainly British participants had the chance to find out about a little-known African success story in scientific publishing. More importantly, it gave international exposure to the AJRH at a stage of the journal's life when practical support would be welcome in the form of training, library subscriptions and improved distribution. The journal has an interesting history as an African-published journal that began life in the north, and continues to earn international respect for its professionalism after three years in its Nigerian base. It deserves strong support. Yet Adebowale rightly remonstrates with the narrow focus of initiatives that single out science and medical publishing for support to the detriment of other scholarly publishing. He argues cogently for the need to strengthen African scholarly publishing in all fields, thereby creating synergy in the dissemination of research as an effective tool for development.

Recognition for African publishing internationally continues to grow, though at times it appears to be an uphill battle. Among an increasing number of prizes for African writing, only the Noma Award for African Publishing, now in its 22nd year, recognises the importance of the African publishing of African writing. The International Publishers Association, an organisation that has been in existence for over a hundred years, will be holding an event on African soil for the first time when the 5th IPA Copyright Conference takes place in Accra in February.

We take this opportunity to salute the grand old man of African literature Cyprian Ekwensi in honour of his 80th birthday, with two articles about his life, his work and his significance. This most prolific and eclectic of African writers more than deserves our accolade not only for his works per se, but also for publishing them with Nigerian publishers when he surely had the chance to move outside the continent instead. Happy birthday, Cyprian Ekwensi!

Update on "The Internet, e-commerce and Africa's book professions", Bellagio Publishing Network Newsletter, no. 28, November 2001: As a further indication of just how volatile the electronic publishing field still is, and as an update on Hans Zell's article in the last issue, readers may be interested in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education of November 16, 2001;, which reports that NetLibrary, one of the companies offering a service to publishers to distribute their books in digital formats, filed for bankruptcy protection on November 14. The Chronicle also reports that NetLibrary's assets might be purchased by the non-profit OCLC [Online Computer Library Center], which would then ensure continuity of access to NetLibrary's current collection of about 33,000 full-text books. [end]  [BPN, no 29, 2001, pp 2-3.]

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