Publishing at the African Studies Association of Africa (Nairobi, October 2019)

- Stephanie Kitchen and Kimani Njogu -

Divine Fuh and Stephanie Kitchen co-convened a plenary and two panels at the African Studies Association of Africa (ASAA) conference held in Nairobi in October 2019 on the topic of ‘Publishing in Africa and African studies: practices, challenges and futures’. They also ran a pre-conference workshop, ‘Publishing book manuscripts: editorial and author considerations’.

The sessions included contributions from leading publishers from East and Southern Africa – Wits Press, HSRC Press, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Twaweza Communications, and FEMRITE – Uganda Women Writers’ Association, as well as the International African Institute (IAI, based at SOAS, London), the Nordic Africa Institute, and CODESRIA. Editors of journals also contributed – Edwina Nikoi and Akosua Adomako Ampofo from the Contemporary Journal of African Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Legon, Ghana, and Carli Coetzee from the IAI’s Journal of African Cultural Studies, both journals with interests close to the heart of ASAA.

Our aim was to centre discussion of publishing – in books, journals and on other platforms – as part of knowledge production – a theme for the conference and ASAA as a whole, whose Publications Committee is considering establishing its own journal. Dar es Salaam publisher with over 40 years’ experience Walter Bgoya (Mkuki na Nyota Publishers) commented around three key themes: publishing cooperation and co-publishing, print on demand and distribution technologies, and new frontiers in college text books. Divine Fuh (CODESRIA) drew attention to the challenging context of knowledge production in the continent, particularly for women researchers; the lack of funding and support for university presses (noted as underperforming in Kenya); access to knowledge, including books and journals, in a continent where cross-border distribution is challenging and expensive; and persistent barriers to electronic distribution and access, even of freely available Open Access resources such as those CODESRIA publishes, particularly in francophone Africa.

A strong theme emerged around gender. Mmakwena Chipu from HSRC Press drew attention to patterns she saw in South Africa of young women co-authoring predominantly with senior (often white) men. Carli Coetzee discussed the women’s caucus formed at the Lagos Studies Association and how this was drawing attention to urgent issues confronting women scholars in the continent, including lacking facilities (toilets!) on campuses, also ‘lack of space, lack of time, lack of sleep’ – but not, she noted, ‘lack of brilliance or ability’. Such networks and spaces can play vital roles in women supporting one another to progress in writing and publishing. The value of a women writers’ network was also the theme of Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare’s presentation on women publishing in Uganda – both as part of the academy, at Makerere university for example, but also for the ‘market place’. FEMRITE is doing pioneering work to document women’s writers and voices in the rural areas. Its policies include using only women reviewers for their manuscripts and on their advisory boards. Within Ugandan universities there is nonetheless a hierarchy between the longer established and larger Fountain Publishers and such pioneering women publishers.

Another major theme emerging at this conference, located in East Africa, was publishing in Swahili and other African languages. I, Kimani Njogu, voiced the argument that the discussion in favour of publishing in African and local languages has moved on towards doing it. With the expansion of higher education in East Africa over the last three decades, there has been substantial academic writing in Swahili. But the outlets for that scholarship are few due to challenges of markets and distribution. Through different forms of partnerships, Twaweza Communications is harnessing and publishing the emerging Swahili academic writing in a context dominated principally by primary and secondary school textbooks.

In our view, the affirmation of African voices through publishing in African languages ought to be taken seriously not only in publishing but also in the academy if we are to democratize knowledge on Africa. Among other considerations, it is African languages that carry most knowledge on the continent. Yet, the majority of books on the continent are in English and French and without considerations for translation. It is a moral and intellectual responsibility to bring academic knowledge back to the communities from where it emanated in the first place. This could be done through co-authorships, co-publishing, libraries or alternative models of presentation in the form of, for example, multi-media formats. These approaches will also have the effect of shifting what is articulated in speaking about Africa in the academy. 

Stephanie Kitchen has been the publications Managing Editor of the International African Institute since 2007.

Kimani Njogu is the Publisher of Twaweza Communications, Nairobi. He publishes academic books and Jahazi: an arts, culture and performance journal. Njogu is a Member of the Kiswahili Cross-Border Language Commission at the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), an organ of the African Union.

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