The Power of the Word: African Blogging and Books

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

“Culture is not a luxury … Culture is the spiritual backbone of society”: with these words Jan Kees van de Werk, the Dutch poet and long-standing advocate of African literature, summed up the importance of culture to Africa’s development. Two trends could significantly alter the prospects for African writers in 2007: the new wave of African bloggers and websites that are now emerging, and the increasing awareness of African literature. More traditional writing is now being joined in 2007 by a surge in African blogging. As internet access has increased, and awareness of free blogging websites like WordPress has also shot up, Africans are jumping online to express themselves (see also Development Challenges, March issue).

African literature is gaining an ever-greater audience through high-profile prize-winning. From veteran Nigerian writer and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Chinua Achebe winning this year’s Man Booker International Prize, to best-selling French language authors like Ivorian Ahmadou Kourouma (Allah is not Obliged) and Albert Memmi, winner of the French Academy’s Grand Prix de la Francophonie. They are joined by many others gaining international acclaim, including Uganda’s Monica Arac de Nyeko – winner of the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing – Nigeria’s Chris Abani (Graceland), Cameroon’s Calixthe Beyala (Lost Honor), Congolese writer Daiel Biyaoula (Alley Without Exit) and Mauritius’s Carl de Souza. The Salon International du Livre et de la Presse de Geneva has established the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize, and the new Book Show for African Literature, Press and Culture is scheduled for 2008.

Increasingly, the creative industries are gaining respect as a key part of a vibrant economy. The power of a successful author or musician to generate awareness and excitement about a country and its products, has gained the respect of many governments. And they are also learning to respect the wealth that can be generated. For example, in Britain the creative industries earn almost as much as the powerful financial sector (Work Foundation). The World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, has singled out Africa’s creative sector for its future investment.

Blogger Titilayo Soremi in Abuja, Nigeria, is typical of the new wave. A business development officer for an NGO, her blog is a vivid snapshot of life in her country. Obed Sarpong in Accra, Ghana is a budding poet and does not shy away from thorny issues. In his current blog, he tackles domestic politics and writes about the on-again, off-again electricity supply. The secretive Kenyan banker known by the name Bankelele is a lover of new ideas judging by his blog. The content is a mix of financial tip-offs and upcoming business investment opportunities in the region, all stirred up with some rather frank thoughts on politics. He has also gone the extra mile and acquired sponsors for his blog (that banking experience is not going to waste).

The Internet age has also given birth to a new phenomenon: the so-called ”long tail” This is best explained by Kelvin Smith in his paper ‘African Publishers and Writers in British and International Markets’: “What now emerges is that more than half the revenue of Amazon is in the ‘bottom’ two million books on the list.

“So, the ‘Long Tail’ principle goes, we are now looking at a technology that can service the needs not of dozens of markets of millions, but millions of markets of dozens. This has great significance for the small publisher, whether that publisher is in a large publishing nation or in a country where publishing is a smaller scale activity.”

It looks as if getting creative is not only fun, it can be the next goldmine for Africa’s entrepreneurs.

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