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Eric Ofei, Afram Publications
Indigenous Publishing: Options and Challenges
Presented by Eric Ofei, Executive Director, Afram Publications
Publishing is a dedicated organ of any nation or people, it is their voice and heritage. It istherefore sensitive in terms of national value systems and national pride. The UN affirmsthe role of books in modem cultural diplomacy when it concludes that wars originate in the minds of men and that it is in the minds of men that defenses for peace must be built. Before and since this pronouncement, books published by every nation have become the voice and the heritage of the nation. The form of cultural revolution we demand must ensure that publishing in Africa is by Africans to disseminate and inculcate African culture and heritage and make the voice of Africa heard, clear and loud.
1. Governments everywhere, in re-affirming and asserting the sovereign right and responsibility of their people to participate in the social, cultural and economic development have emphasized the importance of education institutions and the mass media, in which locally generated cultural and recreational materials play a crucial role.
2. The publishing industry being the backbone of a nation's literacy, educational and literary programmes, has always played a central role in the development of a nation. And since our publishing in Ghana in the past has been heavily dominated by external and transnational publishers, there's now the urgent need to build up autonomous indigenous publishing houses in order to benefit from the initiative and enterprise of nationals, Ghanaians in this case.
3. When I say autonomous publishing house, I refer to a publishing institution which is responsible to itself and which exercises the freedom to control its policies, its finances and its management. An autonomous indigenous publishing house must therefore be owned and controlled by nationals themselves, either as individuals or as groups.
But that is not what matters here. What is of importance here is that autonomous indigenous publishers should be publishing for the majority of the ordinary people. What they publish should derive its legitimacy from their economic, social, political and cultural needs.
I am here emphasizing that transnational publishing houses cannot serve as acceptable alternatives to autonomous publishing firms, no matter how well they may perform and how appropriate they may consider their books. To accept the contrary would indicate an indifference to the responsibility of a people towards their development, a view which would lead to disastrous consequences and in the area of culture in particular. It would in effect, be like saying that if a foreigner can develop our literature or our economy for us, we should be happy to let him do so. Of course, Ghana is not an island and cannot live in isolation.
Autonomous publishing therefore is the response to the crisis in the cultural life of a nation in the realm of education, literature and art - and not just the mechanistic view of corporate finance and control of publishing house.
4. Book development - authorship, publishing, production, and sales - is affected by several social and economic factors, the most important of which are the small per capital income of the country - or average Ghanaian, a diversity of the Ghanaian languages, a lack of book buying culture, a low literacy rate, an emphasis on reading for achievement rather than for self development and enjoyment, insufficient retail outlets, the increasing levy of customs and other tariffs on book importation and sales, and on printing equipment and other educational supplies.
The requirements of the book industry are:
- An efficient printing industry capable of meeting all or most of the country's requirements of printed matter, staffed by well-trained and well motivated personnel.
- Publishing houses which respond in a professional way to authors and their manuscripts, and which make decisions about the publishing prospects of manuscripts and see them through to publication, as promptly as possible.
- Efficient marketing and sales organizations so that books are brought within easy reach of local and foreign markets.
- An extensive network of bookshops and depots not only in the urban areas but also in the rural areas, as well as a system of public, professional, school and community libraries.
Government should do the following:
- Political support and financial backing.
- Government should encourage existing financial institutions to adopt progressive policies that promote and encourage the establishment and development of indigenous publishing enterprise (so that dependence on, and importation of, foreign educational and reading materials may be curtailed). This of course is to exclude professional and tertiary textbooks where the Ghanaian publisher is not adequately equipped to publish.
- The publishing and printing industries and the book trade should be accorded priority status and given the necessary facilities to enable them to acquire the funds to sustain their activities.
- Buy a quantity of any Ghanaian published book assessed by the Curriculum & Research Development of MDE and donate/give to school and university libraries.
- Government should take bold steps to eliminate the reproduction of published material for sale and profit in violation of copyright law, and misappropriation of intellectual property.
- Textbook contents should be in keeping with the realities and aspirations of a cross-section of society. 80% Ghanaian authorship. One would be surprised to observe that the 20% can dominate or over-rule the 80%. Why can't we say for instance that all basic textbooks or even up to Primary Six be 100% Ghanaian authorship and be locally published?
Talk about Donor Institution.
- To support the training of personnel in book publishing, printing, distribution and other allied industries.
- World Bank Bidding Document should be designed to assist/help the local publishing industry.
- CODE Book Purchases from GBPA.
- Sabre could similarly distribute in Europe and the Americas linkages for buying.