Funding and visa issues cloud Africa’s representation at world book fair



Books displayed at the Sharjah International Book Fair in the Emirate of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. [Caroline Chebet, Standard]

The presentation of African literary works at this year’s largest book fair saw poor representation marred by minimal participation from African writers.

Known as the Sharjah International Book Fair, the event celebrates books, reading culture and creativity across the world, bringing together publishers, writers and collectors of rare books.

This year’s performance by African authors, however, saw low attendance compared to last year when several African authors graced the event.

Adam Shafi, an author from Zanzibar who attended the event, lamented that while the East African region is a hub of great authors, there is little representation of their works in these fairs around the world. book.

“It is currently the largest forum in the world where authors and publishers market their work. Representation of works from the region is still very low,” Shafi said.

The event has become the largest book fair in the world in terms of buying and selling copyrights in 2022.

Attributing the low footfall for publishers and authors in the region in part to the current visa ban for travelers from 20 African countries in the UAE, Shafi said the move has locked out literary giants.

On October 18, the United Arab Emirates banned visa applications from nationals of Uganda, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Burundi, Republic of Guinea, from the DRC, Gambia and Senegal. The visa ban was also imposed on travelers from Guinea Bissau, Rwanda, the Dominican Republic and Comoros.

“The travel ban has been attributed to the Ebola outbreak, locking down many African countries. Travel costs are also a significant limitation for many authors,” Shafi said.

While countries like Kenya and Tanzania have not been affected by the ban, travel costs, he said, remain a challenge for most writers. Coupled with coordinating the event which showcases more Arabic literature, the move could be one of the reasons most East African writers have been locked out.

“While most of the books featured here are in Arabic, the common languages ​​in East Africa are English and Swahili, making it difficult for authors from the region to showcase their work,” he said. he declares.

Shafi’s book titled, Vuta Nikuvute, for example, was translated into Arabic, which gave him the opportunity to attend such literary events.

Lack of funding and overreliance on foreign aid from East African publishers and authors, says Shafi, is also another reason to blame for the collapse of coordinated regional literary events for promote reading and writing in the region.

“We have a lot to do as East African writers to promote our work. The biggest challenge is the lack of funding for literary works in the region, a reason why we rarely come together to collectively market our work.

He blamed the collapse of a vibrant literary association, the East African Book Development Association, which brought together publishers and authors from the region, on the lack of local funding.

“When the sponsors pulled out, we couldn’t support the association any longer and it collapsed. Currently, national teams in the region are struggling with little funding,” he said.

But despite the poor representation of African countries, this year’s edition recognized 90-year-old Sudanese historian Yusuf Fadl Hassan as cultural personality of the year.

Dr. Hassan, author more than 30 books, has been recognized for his efforts in promoting research and documentation of the movement in Africa and Asia.

“A prominent scholar, he chronicled Sudanese heritage, led teams of scholars, was president of the University of Khartoum and also a publisher of publications,” the Sharjah Book Fair Authority said in a statement.

Linking his documentation of movements between the two continents, Dr Hassan said the close ties between the Arab world and its people have influenced Sudan’s history and demographics.

“When I was studying and doing my research in Sudan, I found more spoken stories than written records, passed down from our ancestors, from one generation to the next. This is the story that I immersed myself in much more than written history,” said Dr Hassan.

Last year’s event drew considerable representation, including acclaimed South African comedian, writer and broadcaster Trevor Noah and Tanzanian writer and novelist Abdulrazak, also the 2021 Nobel Prize winner for Literature.

Currently based in the UK, Gurnah’s universal tales of exile trauma, loss and uprooted lives have resonated with readers around the world while Noah The daily show resonated with people from all walks of life for several years.

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