There is little doubt that the real star of the International Publishers Association second African publishing seminar, which wrapped up Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday (15 June) was the celebrated Kenyan writer, activist and academic Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
On the evening of the first day delegates watched an adaptation of Thiong’o’s short story The Upright Revolution and it seems appropriate to ask if African publishing isn’t about to have its own ‘upright revolution’. Thiong’o’s story is a fable – originally written for his young daughter – about how the different parts of the body begin arguing with each other when humans walk on all fours. Eventually, they decide that the human body is most efficient when all parts work together, each to their particular abilities, and thus find themselves able to rise and walk on two feet. The morale is obvious: we are better when we are together. The sum is greater than the parts.
Now, how does this apply to African publishing? Well, at the close of the seminar, the Nigerian Publishers Association president Gbadega Adedapo led a discussion of the Lagos Action Plan, the document drawn up following the IPA’s first Africa seminar in Lagos, Nigeria, last year. He noted that by working together and discussing feedback from African publishers on their concerns, change can be made a reality. As he put it: “Not only will a strong, vibrant publishing industry bring prosperity and benefits for us today, it will also provide a foundation for Africa’s future.”
The publishing industry across Africa – and indeed any country – can be seen as a body with separate ‘limbs’. To follow the analogy of Thiong’o’s tale, a country’s publishing industry achieves more when it acts together. So South African publisher Brian Wafawarowa urged publishers to joint their country’s publisher associations. Adedapo added: “It’s a wake-up call to you all,” – a call for publishers to ‘stand upright’ for a brighter future.