The decolonization of African studies extends beyond content to ethical partnerships between the North and the African continent. One key component of realizing partnership is through publishing. African studies research published by Northern publishers is not often even minimally available in Africa; and this is despite scholars on the continent often being partners or facilitators in research undertaken by Northern scholars. Northern publishers have perceived no commercial gain, given small African markets, lack of purchasing power, and lack of distribution systems. Conversely, African publishers have efficient distribution into the North through African Books Collective, owned and governed by them. But in suitable rare cases the African publisher can broker co-publications with Northern publishers who want the originating rights. In the light of these issues, African Books Collective launched an initiative to seek to break the deadlock. In partnership with the International African Institute, and with the active support of the African Studies Associations of the UK and the US, work is proceeding with publishers in the North and the South to broker co-publishing or co-editions to address this historic marginalization of Africa.
African Books Collective (ABC) is a unique organization: it is owned and governed by independent African publishers and was founded by a group of these publishers in order to take control of their own overseas marketing and distribution. Its mission is cultural, to strengthen African indigenous publishing, and to give Africa a voice in discourse about African books and publishing, and about African issues generally through the books published. After 23 years in being, ABC handles exclusive distribution of over 2,000 titles from 136 publishers in 24 African countries, marketing to customers worldwide. It has transformed itself from a donor-supported organization to a wholly financially independent social enterprise. The history of ABC, including its harnessing of digital technologies to become independent, is a success story, although many challenges remain to increase demand for the wealth of African scholarship and literature.
Indigenous publishing is integral to national identity and development: cultural, social, and economic. Such publishing reflects a people’s history and experience, belief systems, and their concomitant expressions through language, writing, and art. In turn, a people’s interaction with other cultures is informed by their published work. Publishing preserves, enhances, and develops a society’s culture and its interaction with others. In Africa, indigenous publishers continue to seek autonomy to pursue these aims: free from the constraints of the colonial past, the strictures of economic structural adjustment policies, the continuing dominance of multinational publishers (particularly in textbooks), regressive language policies, and lack of recognition by African governments of the economic and cultural importance of publishing. African publishers seek to work collectively, to harness the digital age, and to take their place in the international marketplace on equal terms, Africa’s own voice.