Trading books in Africa

Recently UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan teamed up to advocate for greater inter-African trade. They noted that at present it is easier for African nations to trade with Europe and America than with their next door neighbors, but that as the global economy grows, the future for growth on the continent lay with creating an African Free Trade Zone.

While there are plenty of reservations around Cameron's ideas, Cassava Republic are very much in support of the idea of greater inter-African trade. This would not only open up the continent to greater economic opportunities, it would also create new intellectual vistas.

For far too long, Africans have looked to the West for knowledge about their continent, be it through studies conducted at Western Universities or through books written by Africans in Diaspora. A Free Trade Zone would certainly reduce some of the barriers to selling books across borders and allow more Africans to read works written by other Africans without the need for the Western middlemen on whom we currently rely.

Of course, as Jonathan and Cameron pointed out, this would require substantial investment in infrastructure - better roads and airports, improved electricity grids, greater internet connectivity and reliable postal services. However, infrastructural improvements alone may not be enough.

In a paper delivered at the Pan African Booksellers Association conference in 2008, Anaba Alemna a professor at the University of Ghana, Legon, pointed out that some barriers to book selling included "poor reading habits of Africans, low levels of literacy, lack of capital" and "low book-buying habits in Africa..." Additional barriers included the "lack of training facilities for booksellers," and the "generally poor development of libraries."

This is the result of poor government investment in the education sector. As our blog post yesterday showed, even in countries with relatively high literacy rates, most people don't have access to interesting reading material and so don't really read for pleasure.

The fact is, an African Free Trade Zone would bring enormous benefits to the continent, but governments across the continent have a long way to go before such system could be successfully realized.


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