Feature Article of Monday, 26 March 2012
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
24th March 2012
The spread of Christianity in the world was partially and principally due to the establishment of the first printing press by the German, Johan Gutenberg(1455) and the Englishman, William Caxton(1475). The advent of the printing press made it possible to produce many copies of the translations of the bible( which earlier on had been made from Latin and Greek into English by John Wycliffe(1383). It was after the bible became common that the hegemony and monopoly of priests of the Catholic Church was broken and the Church no more held sway over the laity in matters mundane and secular, as well as spiritual and ecclesiastical. The word of God became accessible to all and sundry, and it also led to the proliferation of churches, triggered by the Reformation, led by Martin Luther (1517).
The Printing Press in Ghana
It is sad to note that in this time and age, the cost of publishing in Ghana is relatively very high and as such, many would-be authors of fiction and non-fiction are shy of having their works published. This is because of the astronomical deposits involved in such ventures. Besides, publishing is a very risky venture as there is no guarantee that a new book will break the ice and become a roaring success or bestseller. What with the poor reading culture in Ghana, the nose- diving of the quality of education, and our obsession with materialism. Therefore, the market for books in Ghana is quite dismal. The average Ghanaian will rather spend his money on other things, other than buying a new book to savour a vista of new approaches to life, ensconced in tomes. Instead of patronising a new book which has hit the market, the Ghanaian will rather spend his money on fanciful clothes, expensive eateries, vintage drinks, posh cars and lavish socializing. Writers are not supported because of weak institutional and governmental policies. Besides, our writers’ associations are not proactive; sometimes they are led by selfish self-seeking leaders. We have the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW), the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), among others, which are based in Accra. I think what some of the leaders of such associations do is to use their offices to further their nests, attending endless conferences abroad, but implementing very little on the ground, by way of promoting writing and publishing. Mostly, they are interested in per diem and they jump at the least opportunity to travel overseas.
Gone are the days when as a student in the 60s, I attended Creative Writers Association workshops at Achimota Secondary School and I rubbed shoulders with literary giants such as Dr Jawa Apronti, Kwabena Asiedu, Efua Sutherland, and Ellen Geer Sangster. Those pioneers and leaders then had passion for their work and they made sure they spread the word and they organized properly to produce tangible results. In those days, we used to have publications called ‘Talents for Tomorrow’ , which featured short stories and poetry submitted by participants to the numerous Creative Writers workshops organized throughout Ghana. If you are a budding writer right now in Ghana and you approach the Writers’ Associations for assistance to publish your work, you are given a dose of the typical Ghanaian pull-him down (Ph.D) syndrome. You are received with cold shoulders, given a run-around and you have to manoeuvre your way through a labyrinth of bureaucratic hurdles. While Zimbabweans, Ugandans, Kenyans, Nigerians and South Africans are winning prizes such as Cairn Prize, Noma Awards, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Griffon Prize, Nobel Prize for Literature, among others, our leaders in the Writers’ fraternity in Ghana are busy dousing the fires of budding writers and seeking to promote their own works and interests. In 2008, I sent a few copies of my poetry book, Mulungushi Sounds, to a bookshop in my home town, Winneba for sale. The response wasn’t very much encouraging, even though sales had been upbeat in Lusaka, Zambia. I think Ghanaians have become allergic to reading, and writing for fun. There is a growing anathema in Ghana for literature, which is quite sad indeed. Recently I read a post online by the famous writer, Ama Ata Aidoo, lamenting that book sales of her works are lethargic and tardy. It seems as though our literature taste buds in Ghana have been permanently numbed, dulled and seared by our frenzy for material things and cheap gossip. Besides, the quality of education as of now, as I have observed many times in this forum, is nothing to write home about.
Our schools are churning out droves and droves of semi-literates. The teachers treat literature as pedestrian and as a Cinderella of the arts. They are hardly generating any interest in reading among their pupils. Moreover, if you get one or two interested adherents, you will find that they do not have the wherewithal to procure books. It has recently surfaced that books in all subject areas are lacking in our public schools. Is it any wonder then that we are creating a nation of illiterates and semi-literates? Our library services system is also in shambles. Perhaps, we will need to appeal to the British Council or PEN International (Poets, Essayists and Novelists), to help us set up public libraries in all the towns and cities of Ghana, most especially in the remotest rural areas, and to stock them mostly with Ghanaian – written books. We could also appeal to USAID, FINNIDA, Library of Congress and other donors to help us. The calibre of some school textbooks is nothing to write home about, as the market is not regulated and it is replete with junk. I have been reading some of the textbooks of my 14 year old daughter and I find a lot of hiatus or gaps both in content, diction and pedagogy. Some of the books are indeed low brow. Be that that as it may, we need our government to come up with proper policies to encourage our Ghanaian Writers to write more books, both fiction and non-fiction. Our universities should lead in this aspect by giving stipends or book writing allowances to the lecturers to promote the production of academic books for instruction, as well as to research into local problems and publish their findings in reputed journals, for public enlightenment. Publishing is a billion-dollar industry which can create a lot of jobs for our unemployed youth. It has potential multiplier effects. We can launch e-books but that requires access to computers, power supply, and other accessories. This means also the empowerment of poor people to be able to access internet resources. The resurgence and enabling of our publishing industry will help market our country and our rich cultural heritage, local folklore, local languages and other aspects of our lives, as a unique people. For example, we have the rites of passage, spanning childhood ceremonies, puberty rites, adulthood, marriage ceremonies, festivals, funeral observations and the like. There are many tribes and ethnic groups in Ghana. Indeed, Ghana is a microcosm of Africa. We have rich cultural heritage in terms of Kweku Ananse folktales, proverbs and wise sayings, rich traditional songs, rich knowledge of pharmacopeia, among others. If writers do not research into these areas to capture them in books and seminal papers, we run the risk of having a generational disconnect and a lost generation. We therefore need to be earnest in our quest for writers to take up the challenge of saving our cultural heritage through writing. We need people to write books in our local languages. For example, I am an Effutu from Winneba, part of the Guans, but I have never seen a single book written in my native language. Perhaps, the onus is on me to bite the bullet and produce one. (cf. Christmas Message to Winnebarians – December 2011 Ghanaweb). We need people to write on our historical origins, our chieftaincy practices, oral tradition and our inimitable food recipes. These are the things which define us as a unique people. If our publishing industry does not take up the challenge, we shall eternally be relying on foreign publishers in India, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan to be servicing our domestic markets with cheap books. That will mean being fed with foreign cultures. It is said that mental and cultural colonization and enslavement is the worst kind of enslavement, neo-colonialism, and imperialism. At that stage, it will be well nigh impossible to come out of that third wave of colonization. Our young digital natives will not benefit from those of us who are now looked upon as digital immigrants, but who are people of the book (bibliophiles). I think that after the Cold War ended in 1990, we were ushered into the Digital War. Guess who is winning? China, India and most of the emerging economies. Will we in Africa and in Ghana survive this war? It is often joked that if you want to hide knowledge from the black man, put it in a book or on the internet.
The Way Forward
• There should be a deliberate government policy to protect intellectual property rights in Ghana.
• The Ministry of Education should vigorously organize teacher workshops to produce instructional materials for schools.
• Our students should be encouraged to read more books in school, by forming book clubs.
• The government should provide grants, subsidies and support to writers who have manuscripts to publish.
• There should be established a Ghana National Book Council (GNBC) to ensure that high quality standards are maintained in the book industry.
• Government contracts for the publishing of books for public schools should be transparent and evenly distributed to local publishers
• Workplaces should set up libraries and reading clubs
• Many annual awards to be set up in Ghana to reward writers and publishers in different categories
• Our commercial banks should give soft loans to our budding writers
Some Publishing Houses in Ghana
1. Asempa Publishers
2. Ghana Book Review
3. Woeli Publishing
4. EPP Books
5. Readwide Publishing
6. Catholic Press
7. GAAS (Ghana Association of Arts and Sciences)
8. Busia Foundation
9. Sound Page Books, Legon
10. Selwyn Publishers, Accra
11. Paramount Printing and Publishing
12. S $ D Publishing, Accra
13. Tornado Publications, Accra
14. Waterville Publishing House, Accra
15. Sankofa Publishing, Legon
16. Allied News Ltd
17. Amok Publications
18. Anansesem Publishers
19. Ayebia Clarke Publishing
20. Ashanti Goldfields Corporation
21. Rabbi Books, Achimota
22. African Governance Institute, Legon
23. Media Foundation for West Africa, Legon
24. Institute for Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), Legon
25. Afram Publications
26. University of Ghana
27. Per Ankh B.P.2, Popenquire, Senegal
28. Yamens Books Ltd, Accra
29. Methodist Book Depot, Accra
30. Presbyterian Book Depot, Accra
31. Minerva Publications
32. Sub-Saharan Publishers
33. Royal Gold Publishers, Accra
34. Freedom Publications, Accra
35. Nana Anokye, Accra
36. Adaex Publishers
37. Ghana Universities Press
38. Smartline Ltd
40. Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA)
41. Assembly Press
Davies, W. 1997: 1-2
The Future of Indigenous Publishing in Africa.
pp 68-96 Uppsala :
Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, Development Dialogue.