GUEST COLUMNIST: How healthy is Tanzania’s publishing industry?

Sunday August 4 2019



Epiphania Kimaro

Epiphania Kimaro 

By Epiphania Kimaro

Literacy stakeholders describe a ‘healthy’ local publishing industry as that which publishes at least 500 new titles per million inhabitants. Although many African countries haven’t made it to the healthy segment, some are taking giant leaps while others are taking giant naps. Kenya, for instance, according to the 2015 global publishing statistics, was among the 25 top publishers in terms of titles produced per million inhabitants. Tanzania on, the other hand, cynics might say obviously, didn’t make the cut.

Many Tanzanians have been so cynical about our performance as a country in various arenas, to a point that it has become chronic, and I fear, only adding insult to injury. However, while patriotism is best instilled and built through practice, and maybe we sometimes have to fake it until we become it, how far can we go cheerleading our people, our leaders, even when mediocrity has persisted? The fact that many sectors that are expected to fuel our development are instead stuck in mediocrity, puts to the testeven the most ardentpatriots.

Speaking of mediocrity, the International Publishers Association annual report 2015/16 leaves us with one big question - how healthy is Tanzania’s publishing industry? Given the insufficient statistics, it may be difficult to provide the exact answer to this question; however, here are some potential clues and hopefully triggers of brainstorming for solutions.

1. Publishers Association of Tanzania (Pata). Apparently, this association does exist somewhere, but online. In this era where technology is almost inevitable, a google search returned no website to this association - at least not in the first ten hits. Who then, I wonder, does such an organization work or compete with, if it does not have online presence? A similar search for counterpart organizations, Kenya, for instance, returned the Kenya Publishers Association website as the first hit.

Even amidst mediocrity of this magnitude, it was reported that the “Tanzania’s fledgling publishing industry needed the government protection and support to grow and become an important source of foreign exchange and job creation.” How? One of the reported recommendations was that the government should impose tax on books printed abroad to encourage people to publish their works in the country. Yet, the body to enable such ambitions lacks even the most basic competitive advantages which is online presence. I believe “wake up” would be a fairly polite call to everyone involved. Synergy is powerful, that is no doubt. One of the ways to synergise is to work in collaboration with global and regional associations. For instance, the publishing associations of some African countries, including Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa and Tunisia, are members of the International Publishers Association - and Tanzania is not. Isn’t it high time, as the country focused on massive projects, it also looked at the smaller, and probably less costly initiatives that wouldprogress our human development index?

2. Kiswahili publishing - how much market do we have? According to the 2015 global publishing statistics, the UK has the ‘healthiest’ publishing industry, taking advantage of their ability to export a large number of titles to the world Anglophone market. Spain, also one of the healthiest, takes advantage of the world’s Spanish language readers. I take it that many African countries are jostling for space among English readers. What about Tanzania? What about Kiswahili?

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In our quest to embrace and deep-root the Kiswahili language, whose prospects are still foggy and highly debatable, have we explored the money-making avenues? Kiswahili speakers may have expanded their footprint over the years, but how much Kiswahili literature are they reading, or willing to read? Assuming the appetite is there, how much Kiswahili literature of competitive quality is available?

On the other hand, the bigger and probably more critical question is, if the appetite, the market or the expertise for high quality Swahili literature is insufficient, what options is the country able if not willing to take to become global, or at least regional literary competitor?

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Epiphania Kimaro writes and speaks about personal brand-ing, women and career, personal development and leadership