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Publishing… when world leaders push for sustainable book development in Africa

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MD/CEO, First Veritas Technology, Gbenro Adegbola (left); Chairman, Ebedi Writers Residency, Dr. Wale Okediran; MD.CEO, Rasmed Publications Ltd and president, Nigerian Publishers Association, Gbadega Adedapo; IPA president, Dr. Michiel Kolman, and Founder/CEO, Kalimat Group, UAE, Bodour Al Qasimi at last week’s first International Publishers Association Seminar held in Lagos

International Publishers Association (IPA), in conjunction with Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA), held a landmark seminar recently in Lagos that had ‘Publishing for Sustainable Development: The Role of Publishers in Africa’ as theme. The one-day seminar was aimed at exploring the African publishing market and how to broaden it. It brought several professionals in the book industry from across Africa and beyond to discuss key issues in the industry. It had six panels, which discussed extensively on various issues affecting book publishing, reading, education and literacy on the continent.

While declaring the seminar open, President of Nigerian Publishers Association, Mr. Gbadega Adedapo, and member of IPA Executive Committee, urged the industry to make known its importance to every segment of society in which they operate. He estimated the publishing industry’s annual revenue to be over $1 billion.

According to him, “We decided to have this seminar because it is long, long overdue, because rough estimates of Africa’s publishing market say it is worth more than one billion dollars. Also due to the fact that we have simply not shouted enough about how important publishing is to the development of all the countries that make up this great continent of ours.”

Adedapo also issued a warning on the rate at which piracy is hampering the development of the book industry and likened the ominous sign to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

“African publishing has a good story to tell,” he said. “But it’s one that is not being told loudly enough and it is a story that is under threat. Fellow book-lovers, if we don’t tackle the scourge of piracy, then, to quote Achebe: ‘things fall apart.’ When authors’ works are unprotected, when pirated copies are everywhere, when booksellers themselves are acting as pirates, then authors do not receive royalties and publishers do not receive sales revenue.”

Similarly, IPA president, Dr. Michiel Kolman, in his welcome address, noted the change in the publishing industry as a result of new technologies and digitilization, which he said has resulted in a thriving publishing activity in Africa.

“The world of publishing is evolving rapidly,” he noted. “Not only through digitization and the rise of new technologies, but perhaps even more so through changing global dynamics. A thriving international publishing market goes hand in hand with active and dynamic local markets on each continent. China is driving innovation in artificial intelligence, while India is emerging as an attractive market for English language publishers worldwide. And more than ever before do we see high quality content coming from Africa, especially in the field of educational publishing.”

Kolman also emphasised the relationship between publishing industry and globalization, as he called for a joint effort to tackle these challenges towards the promotion of education and literacy in society.

While calling on governments of each African country to enact and enforce stringent laws that would protect the intellectual materials of writers and publishers, Kolman described it as an effective way to eradicate illiteracy in Africa.

According to him, “The current discussion around exceptions and limitations pits the global north against the global south in a proxy war for big tech to erode copyright. This development directly undermines your efforts in building a sustainable market for African publishers. That is why I cannot emphasise more strongly the importance of a robust intellectual property regime, as well as its strict enforcement. IP laws protect the ownership of ideas, and as such provide a solid ground for research and innovation. For Africa to tap into its enormous creative and innovative potential, a dynamic and trustworthy intellectual property framework is absolutely essential.

“Next to protecting copyright, one of Africa’s immediate battles is the fight against illiteracy. Success in our adult lives can often be traced back to just a few key characteristics in school. Learning to read from a young age is a crucial one. I am curious to hear more about how IT-based literacy programmes and digital startups can contribute to this important effort. Through text, be it in print or digital, one can communicate with the entire world.”

After the opening, the Panel on ‘Bringing the Voice of African Writers, Publishers and Content Creators to the World’ started. It discussed how governments and the publishing industry could collaborate to help African authors and publishers reach global audiences. The panel members were Chairman, International African Books Collective, Walter Bgoya, founder, Ouida Books, Lola Shoneyin, former President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Dr. Wale Okediran, and Founder, Sub-Saharan Publishers, Akoss Ofori-Mensah. CEO of Cassava Republic Press, Dr. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, moderated the sessions.

Also, the panel on ‘Addressing Freedom to Publish Challenges in Africa’ offeredsolutions to improving the fundamental human right of writers in local, regional and international level. It had as panelists Zimbabwe’s Mr. Trevor Ncube, recipient of IPA Freedom to Publish Prize, Nigeria’s Dr. Festus Adedapo, Editorial Board member of Sunday tribune and Chair of IPA Freedom to Publish Committee, Mr. Kristenn Einarsson.

Einarsson described the freedom to publish as “worse” and highlighted some of the factors behind the alarming rate of restriction, saying, “When we talk about freedom to publish, we mean the right for publishers to publish whatever they deem fit. In as much as there have been some implemented policies to channel this cause, it is, however, getting worse if you aggregate everything.

“There are a lot of reasons for this and the latest of them is censorship from pressure groups. This is really a big problem right now for publishers. Self-censorship is also a major factor. It begins with the author who because of fear of hate speech, ethnicity issue and tribalism guides himself against use of vulgar or provocative words that could lead to controversy or proscription of his material. As a result of this trepidation, the author refrains from publishing comprehensive facts and may eventually end up in sensationalizing his materials. This is terrible for the book industry.”

Ncube, however, took another dimension to the topic as he blamed the social media for the restriction to freedom to publish, when he noted, “We are very intolerant of things we don’t have affinity for. The social media has fully exposed the issue of intolerance to every aspect of society. We have moved to a situation where the government no longer has the power they had 10 years back. The social media has taken much of this power and has taken undue advantage of this to promulgate hate speeches, encourage ethnic and religious debate thereby creating enmity in our society.

“There is a typical example of how a movie on circumcision was banned in South Africa because it was against the Xhosa ethnic group who felt the movie was against their culture. South African Government was forced to ban the film due to strong outcry against it.”

Ncube, who is also the Chairman of Alpha Media Holdings Limited, cited intolerance among individuals as a strong reason for proscription of published materials, adding, “Each one of us here plays a vital role on the issue of censorship. How tolerant are you as an individual to others for you to talk about the intolerance of the government against restriction to free publication? Unless we are able to tolerate the shortcomings of one another and live in peace and harmony, we won’t be able to resolve this issue.”

The sixth panel discussed ‘Enhancing Enforcement of Copyright and Intellectual Property (IP) Laws’ and explored successive copyright and IP enforcement models based on cooperation. Panelist were the Executive Director, Reproduction Rights Society of Nigeria (REPRONIG), John Asein, Secretary General, IPA, Jose Borghino and Director-General, Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), Afam Ezekude.

Asein lamented the devastating effect of piracy on publishers and called for an blocking of loopholes regarding copyright laws: “Publishers are orphans and in most countries of Africa, they don’t know where they belong. This should therefore be an eye-opener to publishers for them to take their destinies in their hands. The copyright laws are good enough but there is a distinction between the formation of these laws and their enforcement.”

Asein also rebuffed the claim that booksellers encourage piracy, but called for a joint collaboration between the various sectors of the book industry and the government in combating the menace of piracy.

On his part, Borghino corrected the popular misconception about copyright but described it as “the best of all possible assistance to the publishing sector. Copyright is not an impediment to creativity like most people claim. Rather, it is an assurance, a certified avenue through which authors can get good dividends of their creativity. It is the basis with which publishers have the confidence to promote their books. It also makes sure that the published book is free from defamation, sensationalism, misinformation or able to spark controversy that might lead to violence.”

Ezekude issued a warning to pirates as he emphasised the strict retribution on offenders, adding, “Nigeria Copyright Commission is solely responsible for the enforcement of copyright laws. We have put in place many strategic work plans that have drastically reduced the efficiency of pirates in Nigeria. We have zero-tolerance for piracy. From January 2011 till date, we have carried out several anti-piracy actions, which resulted in a lot of seizure of pirated materials. We therefore want to use this medium to warn those engaged in this act to stop or face our wrath of the law.”

He said an Executive Bill is being prepared, which would be sent to the National Assembly soon to further strengthen copyright laws in the country.


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