The African book sector is in trouble

July 2007 -

Publishing general books in Africa is a risk but publishing cultural books is riskier. Publishers are mourning over lack of adequate training for people involved in the book industry. They are also crying over limited sources for funds for investment expansion as well as the unavailability of and obsolete equipment.


Henry Chakava

Once the African book industry had potential of growth as shown by the establishment of the African Publishers Network that was very influential in the formation of national publishers associations across the continent. Once the industry had vibrancy as epitomised by the creation of African Books Collective whose focus was showcasing the best the continent offered in general, academic as well as cultural books. But today largely because of poverty, a weak reading culture, stiff competition from better equipped multi-national companies, little or no support from the governments, the World Bank and donors the industry is slowly dying.

The loss of interest in books written by Africans in recent years as shown by the misfortunes of the once popular Heinemann African Series that awakened some of Africa's literal giants such as Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Bessie Head, Dambudzo Marechera, Okot P'Bitek and Tayyib Salih among many others also contributed to the strangulation of the African book publishing. Kenyan publisher, Dr Henry Chakava who has been in the publishing industry for about 35 years and has published one of Africa's greatest and respected author Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Africa's publishing industry would be in a worse situation if donors stay away for too long and governments remain passive to the situation. "We make our money from educational books", Dr Chakava confesses.

In his paper presented during the ARTerial conference in Senegal, in March 2007, he pointed out that only 5 percent of African publishing is cultural while the remainder is text books. "For cultural publishing to thrive, governments should put in place friendlier book cultural policies and donors must come back to support the private publishing initiatives until financial stability has been achieved", he said. Dr Chakava also pointed out that donors have a tendency of withdrawing their support when the project had not yet realised its full potential and this has had devastating consequences on potentially viable initiatives such as the African Books Collective and many others. But there is still hope, Dr Chakava said if APNET is revived and donors come in to support the industry throughout its life span.

Henry Chakava received a Prince Claus Award in 2006.