Digital Publishing in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Good News, The Bad News

Sub-Saharan Africa’s dearth of cash, political will and a reliable supply of electricity are preventing the “digital revolution” from making large-scale changes in the way Africans read.

By Tolu Ogunlesi

The Namibian government has a goal of installing computers in every school and every community library in the country by 2014. This is one of the key objectives of the country’s Vision 2030 policy, according to Veno Kauaria, Director of the Library and Archive Service in Namibia’s Ministry of Education. But like many African countries, it faces crippling infrastructure challenges: an inadequacy of electricity supply, and of internet connectivity.

Kauaria said this during a panel discussion on “Sub-Saharan Africa in the Age of Digital Publishing” at last month’s London Book Fair. The discussion was chaired by Nigel Newton, President of Book Aid International and Chief Executive of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, and featured Chris Paterson, an International Publishing Consultant; Clive Nettleton, Director of Book Aid International; Liz Kendall-Jones, telecoms industry expert and Director of Goalquest Associates Ltd, a consultancy; and Kauaria.

The Good News

No doubt Africa is experiencing something akin to a digital revolution. J.M. Ledgard, writing in the Spring 2011 issue of the Intelligent Life, a publication of The Economist, noted that Kenyan mobile-phone company Safaricom, with 12 million subscribers, “is the most profitable business in east Africa.”

A broadband revolution is currently sweeping East and West Africa with the arrival in recent years of a swathe of optic-fibre cabling. In Nigeria there are more than 90 million mobile phone lines in the country, up from a negligible number a decade ago. The number of internet users has risen from 100,000 in 1999 to more than 40 million today. Around a tenth of these internet subscribers gain access to the internet via their mobile phones.

However, because of dismal infrastructure and high costs of optimal equipment and connectivity, Nettleton says “there will be a need for [printed] books for the foreseeable future.”

 Read the rest of the article in Publishing Perspectives, here

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