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Satisfying Africa’s Hunger for the Written Word

By Lawrence Darmani
May 2011

During a critical leadership succession period in a publishing house in Côte d’Ivoire, the new CEO, Jules Ouoba, needed urgent help. Survival was uncertain, yet crucial for Centre de Publications Evangéliques (CPE), the largest Christian publisher in French-speaking Africa. Bob Reekie, Media Associates International (MAI) co-founder and president for many years, moved in to assist.

Several interactions later, a new leaf of hope came to CPE. It sprang back and began publishing life-changing literature.

For more than twenty-five years MAI has been training publishers, editors, writers, designers, and booksellers in Africa and around the globe. Publishing professionals from within the continent and beyond have volunteered their time and talents to impart techniques, sharpen skills, and deliver much-needed encouragement to launch new Christian publishing endeavors and resuscitate ailing publishers that could have flopped.

The Church in Africa has exploded in the last century, increasing the need for literature that can help it address critical issues such as discipling believers, battling AIDS, overcoming poverty, and stabilizing democracy. Church leaders also need written materials to help bring reconciliation and hope to those suffering from the scars of tribal enmity and other divisions.

Africa is the world's youngest region—children under 15 make up more than forty percent of our people. I meet with publishing leaders around the continent who are recognizing the need to encourage the next generation to read and to provide Christian teaching through quality literature.

The Influx of Western Literature
One of the sharpest issues that has confronted African publishers is the lack of locally-created and culturally-relevant material in the wake of the influx of Western literature. A significant majority of the books sold in Africa, including those in Christian bookstores, have been produced in the West, rather than by local writers.

Some African publishers rely upon the sales of book rights they have purchased from Western publishers to sustain their businesses. “The books are already well edited and neatly packaged, making things simpler for us,” one publisher said. Further benefits include operating with a leaner staff and cutting down pre-press capital, authors’ advance royalties, editors’ remuneration, and designers’ and illustrators’ fees. The books are printed in China or India, where printing costs are manageable, making them affordable and profitable. 

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Lawrence Darmani is the CEO of Step Publishers and Media Associate International's Africa regional trainer. Although he combines publishing and editing in his day-to-day activities, he sees his calling and passion in Christian writing. He has authored over fiction and nonfiction books. He lives in Accra with his wife, Comfort, and two daughters.