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date: 24 September 2023

37 The History of the Book in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Oxford Companion to the Book
Andrew VliesAndrew Vlies

37 The History of the Book in Sub-Saharan Africa 

Andrew van der Vlies

  • 1 MS cultures

  • 2 The impact of slavery and evangelism

  • 3 West Africa

  • 4 East and Central Africa

  • 5 Southern Africa

  • 6 Book production in Africa today

1 MS cultures

Although the printing press did not reach sub-Saharan Africa until colonial administrators and Christian missionaries arrived in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the continent’s engagement with writing and the economies of text is much older. Scribal cultures thrived in parts of West Africa on early trade routes across the Sahara, and although knowledge of Arabic seems never to have been widespread, a significant literature in African languages transcribed in Arabic script (‘Ajami’) developed. Important MS libraries survive in Mali, as well as in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Senegal, and northern Nigeria—whence early Hausa-language Ajami texts date from the 17th century. Most other West African countries also have significant collections, many in private hands. In East Africa, Arabic MSS survive from the 11th century, although Kiswahili, the lingua franca of the coastal region, is now nearly exclusively written and printed using the roman alphabet.

More than 1,500 languages are spoken in Africa, and many sub-Saharan countries possess an extraordinary linguistic richness (Nigeria’s 100 million people speak more than 250 languages; the same number occur among Cameroon’s population of 20 million). Despite the difficulty of conveying the complexities of some tonal languages in script, most African languages are now written and printed using the roman alphabet. A few languages—notably Egyptian, Berber, and Nubian in North Africa, and Vai in 19th-century Liberia—developed their own, sometimes short-lived writing systems. The Ge’ez syllabary, developed from a consonantal alphabet, is still the basis for the alphabet in use in many printed works in contemporary Ethiopia—a country unique in sub-Saharan Africa for its history of written literary production dating to the first centuries of the Common Era.

37 The History of the Book in Sub-Saharan AfricaClick to view larger

While copying the MS, two scribes fall into sin: an 18th-century Ethiopian MS of the *Smithsonian’s Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Life of Hanna (Saint Anne), reproduced in E. A. Wallis Budge’s *facsimile edition (1900). The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (Aeth. b.1)

Early MSS in Ge’ez, which developed as a literary language between the 3rd and 8th centuries and persists as a liturgical language in the Ethiopian Coptic Church, include *translations from Greek and Arabic and an Old Testament with 81 books (to the Catholic Bible’s 45 and the Protestant tradition’s 39). Most early Ethiopian MSS are theological treatises (e.g. The Interpretation of Divinity), lives of saints, and royal chronicles (Kebra-Negast, Lives of the Kings), although religious poetry and hymns developed in the 14th century. Amharic, the language of the common people rather than the Church and its scribal culture, grew in importance with the ascendancy of the centralizing Shoan dynasty and the influence of Protestant missions in the early 19th century. In 1824, the *British and Foreign Bible Society printed a bilingual Ge’ez-Amharic edition of the Gospels; The *Pilgrim’s Progress appeared in Amharic in 1887, and Afä-Wärq Gäbrä-Iyäsus’s Lebb Wälläd Tarik (A Story from the Heart, one of Africa’s first African-language novels) was published in Amharic in 1908. Shortly after a printing press was installed in Addis Ababa in 1911, catalogues of Ge’ez and Amharic MSS were printed. In 1922, the Berhanena Selam Printing Press began publishing Amharic school texts locally. Soon, the power of the press superseded that of the continent’s oldest surviving scribal culture.

2 The impact of slavery and evangelism

Seminal ‘movements’ in the development of African *print cultures include slavery, and the forces that opposed and finally achieved its abolition—Christian evangelism, and the mission-facilitated literacy it spread across broad swathes of the continent (see 9). The arrival of print and the book produced ambivalent results in zones of cultural contact: facilitating productive engagements with modernity yet silencing ancient cultures; promoting new forms of knowledge while functioning as a vehicle for organizing site-specific hierarchies of power.

Early Portuguese settlements were established in West Africa in the 15th century, and the European slave trade—which would transport more than 11.5 million Africans to Europe and the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries—began with a voyage to Portugal in 1441. The slave trade was banned throughout the British empire in 1807, and slavery itself abolished in 1833, although it persisted elsewhere—notably in the southern US—until significantly later in the century. Narratives produced by slaves forcefully removed from their West African homelands in the 18th and early 19th centuries constitute perhaps the earliest works produced in English by black Africans. Emancipated slaves were often engaged by abolitionists to produce anti-slavery memoirs; some were examples of *ghostwriting, including those by Briton Hammon (Boston, 1760), James Albert Gronniosaw (Bath, c.1770), and Venture Smith (New London, CT, 1798). Philip Quaque, sent for his education from the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) to Britain by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, corresponded extensively with the London-based Society on his return to Africa to serve as a minister; his late 18th- and early 19th-century letters offer nuanced engagements with *patronage and missionary education. Other notable works in a similar vein include Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects (1773), Ignatius Sancho’s Letters (1782), and Ottabah Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of Slavery (1787). The most famous remains The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789).

Much of sub-Saharan Africa’s indigenous print and publishing history is most deeply marked by the complex consequences of the work of 18th- and 19th-century Christian missionaries. Their idea of the book—and of the Book—as a symbolic marker of a newly configured African engagement with European models of modernity promoted print cultures that interacted with a variety of local cultural attitudes and intellectual traditions, and thus accumulated a range of functions, forms, and symbolic values. Hofmeyr cites a 1931 report in the Missionary Herald of a Baptist convert called Ruth, who attached the pages of a bible to a flagpole beside her home in the Belgian Congo, claiming that it marked her family as ‘People of the Book’, just as the Belgian official flew the Belgian flag when in residence (Hofmeyr, ‘Metaphorical Books’, 100). The book serves here as literal and figurative flag, a sign of the imbrication of print cultures with local structures of understanding and identification.

Presbyterians were among the first in West Africa to import presses and train local operators, and by the mid-19th century had produced *catechisms, lessons, *almanacs, and schoolbooks. Other missionary and philanthropic societies followed suit, some importing foreign expertise (the American Colonization Society employed a Jamaican printer in Yorubaland in the late 1850s), and many establishing depots to sell imported texts and produce translations into local languages. The Bremen Mission published Ewe *grammars in eastern Gold Coast in the 1850s; others (e.g. the Basel Mission and Wesleyan Methodists) were responsible, in the later 19th century, for early works in languages such as Twi, Ga, and Fante. Missionary activity was fraught with contradictions, often engendering tensions with colonial administrations; in a famous mid-19th century incident in eastern Cape Colony, colonial soldiers melted *Lovedale press type to make bullets.

Missions had a widespread effect, influencing European attitudes towards Africa (through *tracts and other material about evangelical work in Africa distributed in Europe), and encouraging the export of specially produced material to Africa. The London-based Sheldon Press’s ‘Little Books for Africa’ and similar series found their way to the continent before World War II, when missionary-sponsored journals such as Books for Africa also flourished. Accounts including Margaret Wrong’s Africa and the Making of Books: Being a Survey of Africa’s Need of Literature (1934), published in London by the International Committee on Christian Literature for Africa, assessed the economic and practical difficulties of producing affordable books for Africans during the global depression. Paradoxically, restrictions on shipping and imports during World War II boosted local book production, much of it then still mission-controlled. After a decline in the 1930s, Ghana’s Methodist Book Depot enjoyed a 60 per cent share of the national educational market by 1950, regularly distributing 500,000 copies of individual *textbooks.

Mission presses also facilitated the growth of literate African elites, allowing local writers access to print and distribution networks, and, with the spread of literacy, to audiences for writing in indigenous African, as well as in European, languages. Literary genres encouraged by missionary presses—exemplary lives, conversion narratives, didactic poetry, *self-help manuals, and ethnographic accounts—proved highly adaptable by politically pragmatic African writers. The Liberian Joseph J. Walters’s Guanya Pau: A Story of an African Princess (1891), for example, argued for improving the condition of women, and Jomo Kenyatta’s apparently merely ethnographic My People of Kikuyu and The Life of Chief Wangombe (1942) offered critiques of European intervention in East African societies. Mission presses dominated book production in many parts of the continent until the mid-20th century (with a handful of foreign-owned or multinational-affiliated presses controlling much publishing activity during the century’s second half). Missionary-facilitated print production, with its own complex traditions, necessarily disseminated European institutional and cultural assumptions. Nevertheless, access to the technologies of print also paved the way for the *pamphlets, books, and journals that would fuel anti-colonial independence movements.

3 West Africa

The British colony of Sierra Leone served, after 1787, as a home for emancipated slaves from Britain and from colonies such as Nova Scotia; after the abolition of the slave trade throughout the empire, in 1807, it provided refuge for freed slaves from the rest of West Africa. Liberia, too, became a home for former slaves from North America after 1822, the American Colonisation Society having been established in 1816 to facilitate their return. West African intellectuals including E. W. Blyden, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, and J. E. Casely Hayford produced early works central to forging notions of pan-African identity. Crowther’s The Gospel on the Banks of the Niger (1859) recorded his prescient concern with the importance of written forms in securing the influence of Christianity in the region; his legacy in making the Bible available in Hausa is particularly valuable. Casely Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound (1911) was long regarded as the first fictional work in English by an African writer, although credit is now given to the unidentified author of Marita: or the Folly of Love (serialized in Gold Coast’s Western Echo, 1886–8) and to Walters for Guanya Pau (1891).

Missionaries and mission-educated Africans were not alone in directing printing and publishing. From the mid-20th century onwards, booksellers operated wherever print flourished, however sporadically; schools, newspaper offices, churches, and clubs all frequently featured small bookshops. There were also notable state interventions, as in the Translation Bureau in Zaria in northern Nigeria, directed by Rupert East. Initially given the task of educating Africans for clerical work in the colonial administration, it soon ran writing competitions, and commissioned works in Hausa, encouraging book production in a roman script—which Ricard noted is called boko, from the English ‘book’, but (not accidentally) sounds like the Hausa for ‘trickery’ (Ricard, 58–9). Similar enabling work was continued by the Nigerian Northern Region Literature Agency (until 1959), the Hausa Language Board, and, after independence, the Northern Nigeria Publishing Corporation (1967). The state government in Kano later funded a publishing company, Triumph, to produce two *newspapers in Hausa (one printed in Ajami). Such *vernacular literature bureaux and state-sponsored initiatives operated at various times across the continent, with varying degrees of success. Others in West Africa included the United Christian Council Literature Bureau in Bo, Sierra Leone (1946), and the Bureau of Ghana Languages, Accra (1951).

Oxford University Press Nigeria (now University Press plc) opened in Ibadan in 1949. The Ibadan University Press, the first African university press outside South Africa, followed in 1951. The 1950s saw the foundation of a number of new literary magazines—pre-eminently, perhaps, J. P. Clark Bekederemo’s The Horn and Ulli Beier and Janheinz Jahn’s Black Orpheus, both in 1957—and the first significant indigenous publishing ventures (including Onibonoje Press & Book Industries Ltd in Ibadan, 1958). They were joined by increasing numbers of presses, commercial or state-sponsored, both locally and foreign owned, as independence spread across West Africa from Ghana (1957) and French Guinea (1958), to Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Dahomey (Benin), Mali, Cameroon, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo (all in 1960), and beyond. In 1961, the influential *Mbari press was founded, as well as Longman’s Nigerian company, and the *African Universities Press in Lagos in the following year. *Macmillan opened its Nigerian branch in 1965, when the Nigerian Publishers’ Association, Africa’s first national book trade organization, was also established (Kenya’s was second, formed in 1971, with Ghana’s following in 1975). In 1968, *UNESCO hosted a regional book development conference in Accra, the first of several such regional initiatives. The International Conference on Publishing and Book Development in Africa was convened at Nigeria’s University of Ife in 1973; 1975 saw the establishment of the now-defunct UNESCO co-sponsored Regional Book Promotion Centre for Africa in Yaoundé, as well as the first issue of the influential *African Book Publishing Record. The *Noma Award for Publishing in Africa was established in 1979, the first award going to the Senegalese author Mariama Bâ, for Une si longue lettre.

Landmarks in Francophone book production in the region include the establishment of the journal and publishing house Présence africaine by Alioune Diop, Aimé Cesaire, and Leopold Sédar Senghor in 1946, and the publication of standard *anthologies of African and Caribbean writing, including Poètes d’expression française (ed. Léon Damas, 1947) and Anthologie de la poésie nègre et malgache (ed. Senghor, 1948). Among early Francophone African publishing houses were the Centre d’édition et de diffusion africaines in Abidjan, the Centre d’édition et de production pour l’enseignement et la recherche in Yaoundé (both 1961), and, more significantly, Éditions CLE in Yaoundé, established in 1963 with German and Dutch church funding; the last remained for many years the only significant African publishing venue for local Francophone writers. However, in 1972, the governments of Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo, along with French publishing interests, set up Les nouvelles éditions africaines (NEA) in Dakar, with branches in Abidjan and Lomé. NEA Dakar split from the branches in 1991, and smaller firms such as Éditions Khoudia in Dakar (founded by Aminata Sow Fall, the first female publisher in Francophone West Africa), Les Éditions du livre du sud (Abidjan), Le figuier and librairie-éditions Traoré (both Bamako), and Arpakgnon (Lomé), have since come to prominence. The devaluation of the Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA) franc stimulated indigenous presses, now able to compete with increasingly expensive imports from France.

Between the 1930s and 1960s, vibrant popular print cultures developed, exemplified by so-called market literatures, cheaply published and widely circulated works including self-help manuals and popular thrillers, often drawing on local or mission-endorsed narrative models. Another influence was the arrival of cheap Indian pamphlets in the late 1940s (many Nigerian soldiers served in the British army in India and Burma), and of popular American and European *detective fiction and *comics. The best-known market literature is associated with Onitsha in southeastern Nigeria, whose heyday was from the 1950s to the mid-1970s; pamphlet cultures emerging elsewhere include, since the early 1990s, charismatic Christian publications, and northern Nigerian, Hausa-language ‘Kano market literature’, often written by women and addressing domestic issues pertinent to the predominantly Muslim society. There is a similar ‘hawkers’ literature’ tradition in Francophone West Africa.

4 East and Central Africa

Print cultures in the East African states of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda developed comparatively later and more sparsely than in West Africa for a number of reasons: the absence of large-scale resettlement of former slaves (as in Sierra Leone and Liberia); the later and less intensive establishment of missions in the region; and the absence of educational institutions for Africans (such as Sierra Leone’s Fourah Bay College) until the early 20th century. Indeed, *Makerere University College, a significant site in the development of a regional community of African writers, was not founded until the 1920s, and was granted university status a decade later. Uganda long enjoyed a vibrant intellectual culture, with elites writing and publishing in Luganda rather than English. In Kenya, however, the case was somewhat different. Kiswahili—a language with significant influence from Arabic, spoken in the coastal regions from Kenya south to northern Mozambique—was perhaps the only indigenous Kenyan language with a written tradition in the 19th century. The first book in English by a black Kenyan, Parmeneo Gĩthendu Mockerie’s An African Speaks for his People, was published in London by the *Hogarth Press in 1934; Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya (1938) followed. Early works in Gĩkũyũ were mostly inspired by the oral narrative tradition or were accounts of a society under threat from colonial settler religion and government—e.g. the early landmark book by Stanley Kiãma Gathĩgĩra, Miikarire ya Agikuyu (Customs of the Kikuyu, 1933), published by the Church of Scotland Mission press, Tumutumu. Vernacular presses, newspapers, and book publishing developed widely after World War II. The East African Literature Bureau, run initially by the Church Mission Society’s Nairobi bookshop manager, Charles Roberts, was established in 1947 (with offices in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and Kampala) to provide development-related material on agriculture, health, and education, as well as fiction, poetry, and anthropologically inspired titles. From its founding to the beginning of the Mau Mau struggle in 1952, it published more than 900,000 volumes, mostly in Kiswahili (41 per cent), but also English (12 per cent), Luganda, Gĩkũyũ, and Dholuo. The Kenya Literature Bureau resumed its operations in 1980, and numerous government or state-sponsored bodies, such as Kenya’s Institute of Education and the *British Council in Nairobi, have also produced important anthologies and publications in a number of languages.

The influence of educational publishing on book production in East Africa, as elsewhere in Africa, cannot be overestimated. Missionary presses published grammars and school books from the earliest days of printing, and literature bureaux and other government agencies continued the trend. Western publishers were quick to see the potential for books in Africa’s large post-independence markets, with educational criteria structuring the field of expectation (including standards of aesthetic judgement) and reception in a perhaps unprecedented manner. *Oxford University Press opened its East African branch in Nairobi in 1952; other British firms followed: Longman Kenya, Longman Tanzania, and Longman Uganda in 1965. *Heinemann Educational Books established an East African firm in 1968 (this became Heinemann Kenya, and later East African Educational Publishers). Other local publishers, though markedly fewer than in West Africa, operated sporadically throughout the early post-independence period. Significant presses established in the region in the last decades of the 20th century include the Mzumbe Book Project (Mzumbe, Tanzania, 1988), Phoenix Publishers in Nairobi (1989), Fountain Publishers in Kampala, and Mkuti na Nyota Publishers in Dar es Salaam (both 1991). Educational publishing still accounts for up to 80 per cent of the African publishing industry’s economic activity.

Elsewhere, book production has faced greater hurdles. A number of presses have existed in the former Belgian Congo (Zaïre; Democratic Republic of Congo)—including Éditions CEDI (1946), Éditions Saint-Paul Afrique (1957), CEEDA Publications (1965), and Les Éditions Okapi (1966)—but despite landmark early works (including Thadée Badibanga’s L’Élephant qui marche sur les oeufs, 1931, and Paul Lomami-Tshibamba’s Ngando, 1948), literary production did not flourish there until the late 1960s, and has been constrained by recent protracted civil conflicts.

5 Southern Africa

Whereas printing arrived in Batavia in 1625, the first press appears to have reached the Dutch East India Company’s settlement at the Cape of Good Hope (established 1652) after 1784, when a German bookbinder, Johan Christiaan Ritter, produced handbills and three almanacs. Repeated requests for a press to serve the official needs of the settlement were refused by the Company’s ruling council in Amsterdam until 1795, and were then frustrated by the surrender of the Cape to British rule that year. Some believe an eight-page Dutch translation of a letter from the London Missionary Society (LMS) to believers at the Cape, printed by V. A. Schoonberg in 1799, to be the first ‘book’ printed at the Cape. A private firm, Walker & Robertson, enjoyed a brief monopoly on printing after August 1800; they issued South Africa’s first serial, the Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser (forerunner of the Government Gazette), in August 1801. The government took over the press the following October.

Early South African book collections include over 4,000 volumes bequeathed to the Dutch Reformed Church by Joachim von Dessin, a Dutch East India Company soldier at the Cape between 1727 and 1761, and that amassed by *Grey after 1855 (while governor of the Cape Colony), which formed the core of the foundation collection of the *South African National Library.

George Greig, Thomas Pringle, and John Fairbairn published the short-lived South African Commercial Advertiser in 1824, sparking confrontation with the Cape Colony’s governor, Lord Charles Somerset, and igniting a debate about *freedom of the press in the colonies. Significant other periodicals between the 1830s and 1880s included the Cape Monthly Magazine, the pro-settler Graham’s Town Journal, and De Zuid-Afrikaan, sympathetic to the ‘Dutch’ proto-Afrikaners. Early Afrikaans-language works include the fascinating case of Abu Bakr Effendi’s Uiteensetting van die Godsdiens (Exposition of the Religion), compiled in the 1860s as a guide to Islamic law and ritual practice for the Cape’s Muslims (predominantly descended from the earlier Malay slave community), printed in Arabic script and published by the Ottoman state press at Istanbul in 1877.

Jan Carl *Juta established a commercial publishing firm in Cape Town as early as 1853; it remains the oldest continuously productive publishing house in the country. Commercial English-language publishing began in earnest with T. M. *Miller in 1893. After World War II, local publishing expanded, with *Timmins, *Balkema, and Struik setting up as trade and Africana publishers. Oxford University Press and Purnell had both entered the local market by the 1960s, and significant local oppositional presses during the apartheid era included the *African Bookman, David *Philip, *Ravan, *Ad Donker, *Skotaville, and *Taurus. Important journals of the period include The African Drum (later Drum)—the primary venue for 1950s black writers including Lewis Nkosi, Es’kia Mphahlele, and Can Themba—as well as English-language literary organs such as Contrast, New Coin, Ophir, Purple Renoster, and Classic, some of which heralded the emergence of a generation of Black Consciousness poets.

As elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, missionary activity played an important role in the development of printing cultures. T. J. van der Kemp, of the LMS, may have printed a spelling table in a local Khoi language at Graaff Reinet as early as 1801, and Tzitzika Thuickwedi mika khwekhwenama (Principles of the Word of God for the Hottentot Nation) at Bethelsdorp c.1804. At Kuruman, in the northern Cape, Robert Moffatt translated the Bible into Setswana, acquired a press from the LMS, and published more than 100 items between the 1830s and 1870. Moshoeshoe invited the Paris Evangelical Missions to his mountain kingdom (Basutoland, now Lesotho, annexed by Britain in 1868) c.1833; they printed actively from 1841 (at Morija, after 1860), producing a Sesotho New Testament (1845) and The Pilgrim’s Progress (1872). In time, the first collections of Basotho customs and proverbs were compiled (Azariele M. Sekese’s Mekhoa le maele a Basotho, 1907), and important early poetry and creative prose published—notably Thomas Mofolo’s Moeti ao Bochabela (translated as The Traveller to the East; serialized 1906) and Chaka (1925). As was common practice, the Morija Press vetted indigenous writing for compliance with Christian orthodoxy, a fate that also befell, for example, Solomon T. Plaatje’s groundbreaking novel, Mhudi, at the Lovedale Press in 1930 (the *Heinemann African Writers Series published an unexpurgated version in 1978). Plaatje is also remembered as an influential editor of newspapers—Koranta ea Becoana, and Tsala ea Batho (or Tsala ea Bechuana)—and for his translations of Shakespeare into Setswana.

Scottish missionaries at Chumi and, especially, Lovedale, in the eastern Cape Colony, effectively directed early isiXhosa-language written and printed culture, publishing a *primer (1823), Sytematic Vocabulary (1825), English–isiXhosa *Dictionary (1846), isiXhosa Bible (1857), and Tiyo Soga’s translation of The Pilgrim’s Progress (1867). The Wesleyan Missionary Press in Grahamstown also facilitated important early isiXhosa publications, including a grammar (1834) and journal, Umshumaydi Wendaba (Publisher of News, 1837–41). Lovedale published newspapers like Isigidimi SamaXhosa (The Xhosa Messenger, 1870–88), edited by such leading black intellectuals as John Knox Bokwe, John Tengo Jabavu, and William Wellington Gqoba. By the end of the 19th century, there were two independent weekly newspapers with black editors: Imvo zabantsundu and Izwi labantu. In Zululand, annexed by the British Crown in 1887, missionary activity and print cultures were hampered by Shaka’s expansionary wars of the early 19th century. American missionaries printed elementary educational and religious texts from 1837, an isiZulu grammar (1859), and a New Testament (1865). An isiZulu grammar in Norwegian was published in 1850. Important early newspapers include Ilanga lase Natal (The Natal Sun), published first in April 1903, edited by John Langalibalele Dube; a leading writer and educationalist trained in the US, he would later be the first president of the African National Congress. The earliest printed book in the vernacular by a black author was Magema M. Fuze’s Abantu abamnyamalapha bavela ngakhona (Black People: Where They Come From), written in the late 19th century but published only in 1922. In the early 20th century, R. R. R. Dhlomo and H. I. E. Dhlomo also produced significant work.

In Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), missionary presses published bible translations into Ndebele (1884) and Shona (1907), and there was an active literary bureau in Salisbury (Harare). Post-independence Zimbabwe has been home to a number of energetic publishers, notably Baobab Books, co-founded and run by Irene Staunton in 1987, which regularly published editions (with *press runs of c.2,000 copies) of Zimbabwean and other African authors. In 1999, Staunton left to launch Weaver Press.

Printing began in Lusophone southern Africa in 1843, with the first book, verse by the mestizo writer José da Silva Maia Ferreira, published in present-day Angola in 1849. Portuguese contact with this region’s Kongo kingdom had begun in 1493; some 1,540 letters between its Christian convert king, Afonso I, and the king of Portugal are among the earliest Lusophone African texts. An early collection of kiMbundu orature (orally transmitted literature), Joaquim Dias Cordeiro da Matta’s Philosophia popular em provérbios Angolenses, appeared in 1891. From the 1930s, the Lisbon-based House of Students from the Empire proved crucial in the development of nationalist literary and political elites, many of whom returned home to the colonies (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé e Príncipe) to fight for the independence that would come after the 1974 coup in Portugal. Communist regimes in newly independent Angola and Mozambique established high levels of state control over publishing, the Instituto Nacional do Livro et do Disco (Maputo, 1976) and Instituto Nacional do Livro (Luanda, 1978) enjoying near-monopolies. However, the end of South African-sponsored insurgencies, and increased support for civil society in these countries in the 1990s, allowed a number of autonomous, commercial publishers (e.g. Editora Escolar, Maputo, 1993) to emerge.

Elsewhere in the Southern African Development Community, printing was introduced to Île de France (Mauritius) by the French in 1767, and subsequently reached Madagascar (where the LMS also established a press, in 1826). Madagascar is its own special case, unusual among former French colonies in having been a unified kingdom with a single written language (Malagasy, related to Malay) before colonization. It also possessed a history of writing in Arabic script. Throughout the early 20th century, French colonial policy was to promote the teaching of French, but after the 1972 revolution, Malagasy literary production and printing have been actively encouraged.

6 Book production in Africa today

Africa generates less than 2 per cent of global book production, and remains unable to satisfy its own book needs, importing some 70 per cent of its books from Europe and North America (and exporting about 5 per cent of its output). Economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s hampered many African governments’ abilities to fund book development or subsidize publishing, much less stock libraries; weak currencies across the continent have made imports of foreign-produced books and publishing materials prohibitively expensive. Even in South Africa, which has arguably the most developed publishing industry, fewer than 10 per cent of the population have the money to purchase books regularly. Nonetheless, small presses across the continent—more than 200 were active in 2000—continue to produce material in a variety of forms and languages, both African and European, with initiatives such as the *African Books Collective, and *African Publishers Network, Southern African Book Development Education Trust, and specialist foreign publishers such as James Currey and Hans Zell, seeking to support their endeavours. See also african libraries, east and west; ahmad baba library; censorship; 23, 25.


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