Friends of African Village Libraries

Pierre-Claver Ilboudo talked the other day about making books more accessible. Well, here are some people who are doing just that. Friends of African Village Libraries are doing some great work to raise the profile of books and literacy here in Burkina Faso. They take buildings donated by the community and turn them into libraries, stocked so far as possible with books by African authors. It’s a great idea and their stand at FILO this week was by far the most inspiring stand on site. I shall be keeping a close eye on the FAVL blog, which combines West Africa gossip and opinion with a genuine passion for books and libraries. Amongst other things, they have produced a series of delicious-looking Reading West Africa books, which everyone at FILO wants but can’t have.

According to their ‘About’ page, “FAVL operates under the belief that true development can only happen when people are empowered by access to information and the habits of reading and critical thinking.” Too right.

One week’s wages to buy a book

Am negotiating the sale of ‘Albino Camel’ book rights with an African publisher here at FILO. Sticking point: he is proposing a cover price of 11,000 CFA – that’s almost 15 pounds sterling.

Bear in mind that a typical day wage for unskilled labour here in Ouagadougou is 1,000 CFA and you’ll see what the problem is. Eleven day’s wages for one slim volume.

This is precisely the problem with the publishing industry in Africa, and one of the main reasons that reading has such a minimal place in African culture.

FILO 2010

FILO 2010

This week I’m blogging from Ouagadougou’s International book festival – the ‘Foire Internationale du Livre de Ouagadougou’ (FILO). I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. It’s hardly Frankfurt but it still has a certain buzz.

The most interesting speech at the opening ceremony yesterday was from Pierre-Claver Ilboudo, who exhorted all writers in Africa to persevere with their craft.

Burkinabe writers are facing an uphill battle, Ilboudo said, for three reasons. Firstly, it is hard to write here. The oral culture of Burkina Faso has little time for the written word, and does not provide a ‘serene’ atmosphere for the work of writers. Secondly, it is hard to publish. The financial realities of publishing in subsaharan Africa are grim: it’s a very long way from the manuscript to the bookshop (that phrase works better in French, of course, because ‘manuscrit’ rhymes with ‘librarie’). Every book represents a business risk, and nowhere more so than in Burkina Faso. Thirdly, it is hard to find readers interested in buying (or even borrowing) books.

Ilboudo said that books in Burkina Faso need to be available (bigger print runs) and accessible (lower prices). He  encouraged his listeners to give books as Christmas presents this year!

He called on the state to provide funding for literature in the same way as it does for cinema and music.

He called on writers to be more unified – there are four separate Writers’ Guilds in Burkina Faso. How can the writers of Burkina communicate their ideas to the world if they can’t even communicate to each other?

After Pierre-Claver Ilboudo’s speech, the Minister of Culture declared the book festival well and truly open, and we all swarmed into the exhibition halls to see what we could see. More about the exhibits tomorrow.