26 June 2006

Making caricatures of us all

January ended with the news that a tanker loaded with ten thousand tonnes of phosphoric acid had sunk off the French coast, threatening to leak eighty tonnes of fuel oil into the English Channel. It had all the makings of a major news story. As the British Press focused on the House of Commons vote over the controversial religious hatred bill, news that Danish firms were seeking an end to a boycott of their goods was receiving scant attention. By the end of the week everything had changed; the tanker was long forgotten and one story was dominating the headlines.

I have to admit that by the evening of 2 February I was pretty angry. Collecting my wife from the station, having just turned off the Six O’Clock News, I was foaming all the way home about the way Muslims have to react so stupidly every time a red flag is waved in front of us. Just after I became Muslim seven and a half years ago, another convert told me that the action we had taken was a bit like jumping on board a sinking ship. That day reminded me of his analogy. Disconnecting from the mainstream media and plugging into the Internet provided some relief however; I suddenly noticed that amidst the commentary from the Muslims of cyberspace it was actually very hard to find people saying anything stupid after all. All I could see were the silent images in the online press.

The cartoons in question were first published four months previously in Denmark, apparently to test the boundaries of freedom of expression. Perhaps Denmark had already established these boundaries when its Supreme Court ruled that a supermarket chain had the right to sack a young Muslim woman for wearing a headscarf to work. Of course, we can’t say this; it’s changing the subject. No, the newspaper in question, Jyllands Posten, consulted the Danish theologian Professor Tim Jensen before publishing the cartoons. He responded with the advice that the cartoons should not be published, pointing out that “It will offend Muslims and only cause pointless provocation.” So the newspaper went ahead and published them anyway.

On 20 October 2005, the BBC reported that ambassadors of ten Muslim countries had complained to the Danish prime minister about the newspaper's cartoons. Then the story disappeared for three months, only to reappear when Arla Foods announced it would have one hundred redundancies after its sales in the Middle East fell to zero. In this bizarre twist to the usual sanctions regime, Danish companies were pleading for a food-for-oil programme. Thus the EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, chipped in to criticise the papers that re-ran the cartoons. Why did they re-run the cartoons? Did they, too, need to establish the boundaries? Were they still in doubt? Of course not. Nothing stirs fame like controversy. So away they waved with the red flag.

Throughout the day on 2 February, the media was stirring the story. When I returned to my car in the evening, the presenters on the evening news seemed to be continuing from where I had left them in the morning. The package was introduced in sombre mood on the midday television news; we listened as the reporter told us that another clash of cultures, like that seen with the Satanic Verses, “was developing fast”. Then, turning to the other camera with a smile, the presenter told us how to contribute to the debate online. While the sales of Lurpak continued to plummet, a self-righteous media began to fight back, chanting death to the enemies who have no respect for pointless provocation. Calls to boycott Middle Eastern goods quickly faded, however, when it was realised that the only Middle Eastern goods available were oil and stale baklava.

Apparently there had been a massive wave of protest across the Middle East, although at that stage nobody had managed to capture the thronging crowds on camera. A world shortage in wide-angle lenses meant that every photographer was forced to go for the up-close-and-personal look. Still, that would soon change once the word got about. One of the protests involved a group of men pouring lighter fluid over a Danish flag which appeared to be made of tissue paper before setting it alight. I should think, were it not for its obligatory incineration, Danes would be touched by the affection with which the protesters had recreated their national flag; one protester had clearly spent hours on his neatly crayoned standard. Elsewhere, men whose convictions were so strong that they had to hide their faces beneath scarves briefly surrounded the EU offices in Gaza and fired bullets into the air, gaining prime time airing on the television news. But rolling into a town just outside London, a camera crew filmed men walking out of a mosque looking scarily unperturbed. Even the non-Muslim asked for his opinion on the street seemed oblivious to the media frenzy unveiling around him. Unprepared, he stuttered something about nothing and shrugged his shoulders.

Personally I believe there must be better ways to honour our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, than to violently demand a non-Muslim newspaper observes Islamic principles of not depicting the Prophets. Islam has always prohibited this because it wanted to prevent its followers from taking them as objects of worship down the line. That’s not unreasonable, if you think of the way Iconography has been used in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Christianity. But would we not be better off honouring Muhammed, peace be upon him, by living as he lived, trying to curb our anger and observing patience? But then again, by and large that was what the Muslims representing themselves have been saying. Indeed there were no ritual bonfires of tubs of Lurpak in the car park at my mosque after Jummah prayer the following week, although I gather a convicted drug dealer thought it would be a good idea to turn up in London dressed as a suicide bomber.

On the other hand, the media was making much of the democratic right to cause offence in the civilised countries of Western Europe today. Unlike those ignorant, backward Muslims over there with their quaint ways and failure to appreciate satire, Denmark is a land of enlightened souls doing nothing but exploring their boundaries. Yes indeed, Denmark is such a pleasant civilised land that a radio station in Copenhagen had to have its broadcasting licence taken away in August last year after calling for the extermination of Muslims. Whilst exploring the boundaries of freedom of expression, Kaj Wilhelmsen told listeners to Radio Holger: “There are only two possible reactions if you want to stop this bomb terrorism – either you expel all Muslims from Western Europe so they cannot plant bombs, or you exterminate the fanatical Muslims which would mean killing a substantial part of Muslim immigrants.” As Queen Margrethe of Denmark is quoted as saying in her autobiography, it is time to take the challenge of Islam seriously: “We have let this issue float around for too long, because we are tolerant and rather lazy.” You see: we in the civilized West are much too tolerant to behave like those flag-made-of-tissue-burning, sanction-wielding brutes over there.

20 June 2006

Welcome to the New Iraq

I am quoting from a very interesting post by Riverbend the famous Iraqi blogger entitled "Viva Muqtada..." on a silly, ignorant and disparaging fatwa Muqtada al-Sadr has issued against football. I mean, all the things that are occurring in Iraq like the erosion of women's rights and the banning of sports and all tell us what Iraq is turning into. Anyway, this is the quotation:
As it turns out, Muqtada has a fatwa against football (soccer). I downloaded it and this is a translation of what he says when someone asks him for a fatwa on football and the World Cup:

“In reality, my father's position on this topic isn't deficient... Not only my father but Sharia also prohibits such activities which keep the followers too occupied for worshiping, keep people from remembering [to worship]. Habeebi, the West created things that keep us from completing ourselves (perfection). What did they make us do? Run after a ball, habeebi… What does that mean? A man, this large and this tall, Muslim- running after a ball? Habeebi, this ‘goal’ as it is called… if you want to run, run for a noble goal. Follow the noble goals which complete you and not the ones that demean you. Run after a goal, put it in your mind and everyone follows their own path to the goal to satisfy God. That is one thing. The second thing, which is more important, we find that the West and especially Israel, habeebi the Jews, did you see them playing soccer? Did you see them playing games like Arabs play? They let us keep busy with soccer and other things and they've left it. Have you heard that the Israeli team, curse them, got the World Cup? Or even America? Only other games... They've kept us occuppied with them- singing, and soccer, and smoking, stuff like that, satellites used for things which are blasphemous while they occuppy themselves with science etc. Why habeebi? Are they better than us- no we're better than them.”

Important note: Islamic Sharia does not prohibit soccer/football or sports- it’s only prohibited by the version of Sharia in Muqtada’s dark little head. I wonder what he thinks of tennis, swimming and yoga…

I listened to the fatwa, with him getting emotional about playing football, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Foreign occupation and being a part of a puppet government- those things are ok. Football, however, will be the end of civilization as we know it, according to Muqtada. It’s amusing- they look nothing alike- yet he reminds me so much of Bush. He can barely string two sentences together properly and yet, millions of people consider his word law. So when Bush raves about the new ‘fledgling Iraqi government’ ‘freely elected’ into power, you can take a look at Muqtada and see one of the fledglings. He is currently one of the most powerful men in the country for his followers.

So this is democracy. This is one of the great minds of Bush’s democratic Iraq.
Why didn't George Bush and his minions just ask the professors and intellectuals in the United States like Noam Chomsky and Edward Said about a thing called "reality" before leaping into Iraq? Freedom and democracy were never the vocabulary but the media of the mission. The largesse was delivered to the people of Iraq through cluster bombs and napalm. The poor of this world weep while the fat cats in ties and coats chuckle at the sight of the riches gushing from the anvils. The blood is never seen.

15 June 2006

In the interest of the people

Long before the Make Poverty History campaign caught the public imagination—its huge momentum so famously derailed by four bombs on the London transport system last July—another global movement was calling for the cancellation of the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries. At the turn of the millennium Africa was said to be paying $200 million every week just to service its debts. ‘The debts are unjust, unpayable and are killing too many people,’ lamented Jubilee 2000, ‘The cards are stacked against the poor. We’ve got to change the system, to put an end to this injustice.’ Thus, in over 120 countries, trade unions, charities, religious groups and community organisations came together with a unified retort; a call that the debt be dropped.

There is no doubt that this is a noble cause. It is claimed that Benin used over 50% of the money saved through debt relief to fund health care, while Tanzania was able to abolish primary school fees which led to an increase in attendance of over 60%. Our noble Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Your smile for your brother is charity. Your removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is charity. Your guidance of a person who is lost is charity.’ Thus the work of Jubilee 2000 was indeed commendable. But for those of us familiar with religious law it does seem that we are missing something. While calling for the cancellation of existing debts, there is a much larger injustice about which we have fallen silent.

Low income countries pay around $2.30 to service their debts for every $1 they receive in grant aid. In her well known book, A Fate Worse Than Debt, Susan George called interest rates the ‘bane of Third World debtors’ existence.’ Interest lies at the heart of the matter. The first loans to Africa, Asia and South America came from the World Bank and foreign governments, targeted at development projects and the expansion of capital goods imports. Such loans were tied to relatively low interest rates. It is ironic that the newly oil-rich Muslim countries of the Middle East should be responsible, even if indirectly, for much of today’s crisis.

In the 1970s, commercial banks inexperienced in dealing with poor countries found themselves holding excess capital from OPEC’s oil price partnership and thus provided variable-rate loans based on market rates. Interest rates followed market fluctuations and, largely as a result of the U.S. Federal Reserve tightening monetary policy against inflation in the 1980s, they quickly rose from negative to positive levels. Consequently, as debt repayments suffered, the commercial banks withdrew from further lending to protect their own interests. The result of continued high interest rates, combined with a decline in commercial bank lending, was the paradox that the recipient countries were paying out more finance servicing payments than they received as borrowing.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign as it is now known is demanding an end to the injustice of what has been termed the Third World Debt Crisis. Admirable, indeed, but is it not time that we addressed the issue at the heart of this crisis? The movement’s name derives from the Hebrew Bible, for the jubilee was a time when debts would be forgiven. In The Times in 1998, the late Roman Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Hume, wrote, ‘the prospect of reducing the burden of debt has profound theological resonance.’ A step further could have equally heartfelt significance, for in this crisis there is an inkling of an issue that was always treated with due concern through the ages by Church theologians.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have much in common. One example is a prohibition on the consumption or charge of interest. Traditionally in all three faiths to make a transaction involving interest was considered a major sin. The law in the Pentateuch states that an Israelite may not exact interest from his poor brother on a loan given to him (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36). In the Psalms it is written that one who does not put his money out to usury will remain unshaken (15:5). In Ezekiel, a righteous man is one who ‘never lends either at discount or at interest, but shuns injustice and deals fairly between one person and another’ (18:8); a loan in interest, meanwhile, is considered amongst a list of abominations (18:13).

Similarly, Christians made reference to the Gospel of Luke which advises believers to lend without expecting a return (6:35). The Encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV of 1745 states, ‘The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin in a loan contract.’ He goes on, ‘One cannot condone the sin of usury by arguing that the gain is not great or excessive, but rather moderate or small; neither can it be condoned by arguing that the borrower is rich; nor even by arguing that the money borrowed is not left idle, but is spent usefully…’

As for us Muslims, the Qur’an states, ‘Those who devour usury will not stand except as stand one whom the devil by his touch has driven to madness. That is because they say: Trade is like usury, but God has permitted trade and forbidden usury …’ (2:275). Our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, confirmed this when he said, ‘A dirham which a man knowingly receives in usury is more serious a sin than thirty-six acts of adultery.’

It should not then be difficult to appreciate how a disassociation from interest would have the greatest theological resonance. Yet in reality we find quite the contrary, for most people are ignorant of this tradition. Although a distinction between usury and interest was rejected by both Luther and Melancthon, Calvin’s separation of the two gradually gained acceptance amongst both Protestants and Catholics. Thus today, in a global economy based on interest, few would even give the matter a second thought. Indeed this is surely the time that our beloved Prophet Muhammad spoke of when he said, ‘A time is certainly coming to mankind when only the receiver of usury will remain and if he does not receive it, some of its smoke will reach him.’

It is time that we stopped skirting around the issue. It is not just the debts which are unjust, unpayable and which are killing too many people, as the Drop the Debt campaign argued. All of us would do well to support this admirable and worthwhile campaign, but we should recognise that it is only part of the solution. If we—believers of the Abrahamic faiths—really want to change the system we may have to concede that it is time to stick Calvin’s separation back together again and that maybe, just maybe, the ancients had it right after all.

14 June 2006

Home Lies in the Heart

As mother sits in the chair and watches
The fat motes frisking on the window-sill
A fresh teardrop leaves her cheek
And the sun is growing by the Hour
Eating the shadows in the souk
The children scream at the butcher shop
The cow’s eyes are still unsure
The sands blow against the pyramid
But nothing is more enigmatic to Cairo
Than mother’s tears for her child
A sweet child she raised on her own
To which country shall the child go
May Allah always keep her nigh
And may her world be filled with bliss
Yes, mother knows that the ships don’t sail
If they’re anchored in her heart
Don’t they know where home lies
It’s a tender garden deep indoors!
It’s a playhouse where the children play
Even if they go away…nay
The dings of the bells remain!
The sun sets and the buildings disgorge men
The adhan lifts the melancholy from her heart
Kneeling on the prayer-rug, mother sways
To every line, beside which the Qur’an lays
Later, she raises her head to see her child
Grown up, ready to take the road to South Africa
What happy adventures to unfold!
And mother skips like a child herself
Clasping her daughter in her arms
Sighing as the memories tumble
But they are there for us to remember
They are figments of time to reach for
Sketches in the grotto of the heart
And the planets move together in love
Heralding a new phase, a social evolution
Not to fear because it’s of the seasons!
The mild will never have to part
As home lies deep in the heart
Where dreams grow out like vines
And encircle, sprawl and sing
To the chimes of a gentle pious soul
And mother doesn’t have to shed tears
But smile as the breeze blows in her heart

09 June 2006

Will we not believe?

According to contemporary scientists, it is thought that the universe came into being around 13.7 billion years ago. The basic characteristics of the very early universe have been described in the big bang theory, but much of the detail of that staggering event remains the realm of hypothesis. High energy physics has been used to describe the evolution of the universe in the period that followed, explaining how the first protons, electrons and neutrons formed. They talk of the formation of the first nuclei, then the formation of atoms and of neutral hydrogen. A third period describes the formation of structure: matter coming together to form stars, quasars, galaxies, galaxy clusters and super clusters. I find this structural period fascinating.

Some of the most beautiful images I know are those showing deep space as generated by the Hubble Space Telescope. The spectacular images of vast nebulae always warm my soul, reminding me of the grandeur of our Creator, putting everything into perspective. One of the most exciting developments of recent times was the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, which was derived from data accumulated between September 2003 and January 2004. Although this has been described as covering a small region of space, it is estimated to contain ten thousand galaxies. As the deepest image of the universe ever taken using the visible spectrum, it takes us back in time more than 13 billion years, showing us how the universe looked in the early Stelliferous age.

While the images of deep space in themselves are always heartwarming, their significance is also profoundly felt when one considers the words of the Qur’an about Allah’s creation. Sura 41, ayat 11, fails to provide us with the wooly, open description that the post-enlightenment age has taught us to expect from Scripture. Far from it: the panoramic photograph of the centre of the Orion Nebulae could be used to illustrate this verse. In his Oxford University Press translation of the Qur’an, the non-Muslim Arthur J. Arberry translated it as follows in 1964:

Then He lifted Himself to heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth, "Come willingly, or unwillingly!" They said, "We come willingly."
This need not come as a surprise for the Muslim who believes that the Qur’an is the Word of God. Of course the Creator can describe His creation in truthful terms. From His Throne, He is witness to all things, from the formation of stars in towers of smoke 57 trillion miles high to the battle of the tiniest ant in my garden. For the disbeliever who considers the Qur’an to be the fourteen hundred year old work of man, however, it could be nothing but a miracle: it would even have been so had it originated in 1964, twenty-nine years before Hubble was operational. Allah is magnificent.

One of my favorite websites on the Internet is http://hubblesite.org. For me it is a reminder of what we really mean when we say ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is Great. In these days of conflict, it is wonderful to remind ourselves of these things. If we set our short lives beside the fourteen billion years of Allah’s creation, it helps put everything into perspective. It reminds us of our place. It reminds us of why we are here and our part in this great scheme. It is right that we reflect upon such matters, because it is what Allah asked of those us who were not brought up as Muslims. This is how that same Arabist translated sura 21, ayat 30 in his rendering, The Koran Interpreted:

Have not the unbelievers then beheld that the heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, then We unstitched them and of water fashioned every living thing? Will they not believe?
For my part, I have beheld and thus I am one who witnesses that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah alone without partner and that Muhammad is his Messenger. Allah is magnificent. If you have access to the Internet, at home or at your local library, I would advise you to visit that website and reflect: it is well worth it. These are the phenomenal signs of your Lord.

07 June 2006

Gratitude: How to Increase It

Being grateful seems in short supply these days. Allah has blessed us with so much, and yet too often we spend all our time complaining or wanting more instead of appreciating what we already have.

The gift of Islam, joining this deen and ummah, is the greatest gift Allah has given us. When we talk about “born” Muslims versus “convert” Muslims, we often use the term “revert” to refer to converts who have actively chosen Islam as their life’s path. But in fact, the word revert should be used for all Muslims because even if one is born and raised in an Islamic home, at some point in that person’s life they must make a conscious decision to choose Islam as their way of life, to give up and stifle their ego and baser desires, and to live to serve Allah.

If we are grateful to Allah for this gift, we must obey Him, practice the Five Pillars and make effort to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (salalahi alahi wa salaam) in every possible way. His first gift to us was life itself. Man is created to worship Allah and bow in Islam to Him. This is the sign of gratitude.

Beyond this, Allah gives us everything we have. He gives us sustenance and answers our prayers. And He gives us hardships to test us and to help us to grow and draw closer to Him.

And He giveth you of all that ye ask for. But if ye count the
favours of Allah, never will ye be able to number them. Verily,
man is given up to injustice and ingratitude. (Qur’an Surah
#14, Ayat #34)

Yet how many of us only turn to Allah when we want something, and then neglect to even make a du’a of thanksgiving to Him upon receiving our wish? How many of us forget to make salat or to give in charity when things are going our way, but when times are rough suddenly give a little to charity, betting on the hadith that says that everything we give will come back to us in greater quantities?

To be ungrateful for the many blessings from Allah is indeed a grave error. But it is a correctable error with effort on our part.

Here are some tried-and-true ways to increase your levels of gratitude:

1) Meditate on all the things that you have. Do not focus on what you do not have, or on what someone else has that you wish for. Think only of the many things you do have; loving family members, a roof over your head, food in your refrigerator, etc. All the “little” things that we tend to take for granted but could not survive without, Allah has provided to us.

2) Meditate on the abstract gifts that Allah has provided for you. Talents and skills, good health, etc. are also gifts from Allah and everyone has been given some.

3) Meditate on the situations of others than yourself. No matter how badly you feel about your own situation, there are millions of people around the world in a far more desperate plight than your own. How blessed are you? What do you see another going without, while you carelessly squander your portion of it?

4) Start a Gratitude Journal. On a regular basis, sit down and write out the things you have to be grateful for and re-read previous entries. If you catch yourself being negative, grasping, or selfish, this is the perfect time to sit down and think of something you can and should be grateful to have. Make du’a to Allah to thank Him for everything you have written down.

5) Make sincere du’a for others who are struggling. Do this because it is the right thing to do, do this solely for the Pleasure of Allah. If when you see another in need you make a heartfelt plea to Allah for their benefit, you will also benefit from it. You will be reminded at this time of what you have to be grateful to Allah for, and Allah will hear your du’a for another, and inshaAllah you will also receive similar blessing as you have wished upon another.

04 June 2006

The Question for Man

A mansion and pleasures
Await me
Satan has promised me
The crowd is swelling
Where I am
The laughter of the djinn
Dethrones my power
Children of Adam have chosen
Allah is with my brother
At whom I scoffed
When the earth closes in upon me
Satan flees
We will be brought to account
Unless we repent
Be gone, Satan!
Will you protect me
From the scourge?
Have you taught me to be free
Of the crackling wood?
In Allah alone I put my trust
To Allah I shall return
Allah is my Creator

01 June 2006

Can African publishers publish African authors and keep them?

Textbooks make up ninety percent of Africa’s total book production. Whilst the continent’s population makes up twelve percent of the global figure, it produces only one percent of the world’s books. As a result, the remaining ten percent of Africa’s book production, which includes liturgical materials, academic books and gray literature, makes up a tiny and almost insignificant proportion (Chakava, 1996, pp.79-81). The affect of this situation on African authors is put by the President of the Ghana Association of Writers:

“If you [the writer] set out to print anything on your own, the printing costs will stagger you. If you manage to print, the distribution difficulties will blow your mind. If you give your stuff to a local publisher, you will sympathize so much with his problems that you may not write again. … So all our best work … appears first to an audience which either regards us like some glass-enclosed specimen… or like an exotic weed to be sampled and made a conservation piece … or else we become some international organization’s pet.” (quoted in Kotei, 1987)

African literature is viewed as virtually non-existent such that when a work is published, it is considered almost as an exception. This occurs despite there existing great literatures authored in Amharic, Swahili, Hausa, Yaruba and Zulu (Fawcett, 1992, p.174). According to Zell, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a large amount of literature in African languages exists but remains unpublished (ibid. p.172). As the above quotation points out, when African authors do get published, it is not by African publishers, but by foreign internationals. In this way, dissociation almost occurs of these authors from the literature of their region.

Who is publishing African literature?

Chakava (1996, p.81) notes that “Africa’s leading fiction writers are published in the North, mostly in Britain, France, and the US.” These individuals emerged during the 1950s and 1960s when an indigenous African publishing industry did not exist or was only just being established. Chakava believes that these authors continue to be published outside Africa either because the local industries are still developing, or because authors “are still bound by contractual obligations to their original publishers.”

Heinemann relies heavily on the US export market, and will do so increasingly due to a reduction in size of UK market. Indeed, British booksellers are no longer very interested in selling African literature (Fawcett, 1992, p.173). Because publishers favouring internationalism are linguistically Eurocentric, African authors must write in English or French to reach an international market, even though great literature is being written in Amharic, Swahili, Hausa, Yaruba and Zulu (ibid. p.174).

Shortly after publishing Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in 1958, Heinemann launched its African Writers Series, achieving a list of one hundred titles of fiction, drama and poetry in a decade (Hill, 1992, p.45). The number of titles in this series by 1992 was 300.

Hill (1992, p.46) insists that profit was not Heinemann’s primary concern in promoting the African Writers Series. In the event, he writes, the series was very profitable; after selling only 2000 copies in its first two years, Things Fall Apart went on to sell several million copies.

Oxford University Press’ African divisions, made up largely of local managers and editors, have created strong African lists in both English and African languages. These include original fiction, poetry and drama, by authors such as Wole Soyinka and John Ruganda (Hill, 1992, p.47).

Longman and Macmillan rely on local African authors, both in the education sector and in fiction. The former’s African companies each publish between twenty and one hundred new titles each year in a range of languages (Hill, 1992, p.47).

Ramchond (1983, p.63) points out that most West Indian novels since 1950 were first published in London, while “nearly every West Indian novelist has established himself while living there”.

Although the characters and settings of most novels by West Indian authors in England were drawn from the native islands, and although they dealt with issues relevant to those people, the price of novels manufactured in Britain were often too great for most West Indians to afford (Ramchond, 1983, p.74). The main audience for their work, therefore, was not a group who shared their experiences, but a foreign one. Ramchond writes: “West Indian writers deplore the poverty of cultural life in the islands, but the departure of so many giften men from an area whose joint population hardly exceeds three million, has only aggravated the situation they sought to escape…” (ibid.)

Fawcett (1994, p.172) believes that the record of British publishers translating African languages into English is virtually non-existent. Rather, he writes, “African literature today is locked away in African languages and few people care to find the key and use it.”

While African authors and literature scholars wish to see such material published, publishers, whether British or African, insist that this is an unrealistic propostition for they struggle even to sell African literature in English. (Fawcett, 1992, p.174)

Rosalind Ward, of Longman’s African and Caribbean series, does not believe that the sales potential of African-language titles is large enough to even justify the payment for translation. Furthermore, she argues that when authors write in their own languages they do so for their own cultural framework (Fawcett, 1992, p.173).

Fawcett (1992, p.173) notes that university departments in Germany have published translations of African literature, while the African Literature Forum in the UK cannot because it does not have funds to do so.

Schulz (1992, p.94) notes that the current African authors are published by only three small German companies. Suhrkamp is the only large publishing house to have shown an interest in the continent.

Schulz (1992, p.95) writes: “So long as Africa remains, in European minds, a continent without a history, staggering from crisis to crisis, curiosity about African literary culture has little chance of developing.”

African publishers

Mbanga and Ling (1993, p.209) argue that the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) is strategically placed to serve the region’s publishing industries. Held in Harare every August, it lies between southern and sub-Saharan Africa, and is accessible to the three European languages commonly utilised in contemporary African writing. The organisation behind it aims to make ZIBF “a marketing tool for the publishing industry throughout Africa” by attracting overseas interest (ibid., p.211). It has established an office in London which acts as its marketing agent for Europe and North Africa.

According to Mbanga and Ling (1993, p.213), the 1993 ZIBF hosted representatives from twenty-one African countries. However, they point out, this participation remains dependent on the support of donar agencies such as NORAD and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Mbanga and Ling (1993, p.213) write that the 1992 ZIBF made progress for international trade between various African states. Licensing agreements were signed with Nigeria for the production of children’s books in Southern Africa; distribution agreements were made between Botswana, Zimbabwe and the Independent Publisher’s Association of South Africa; and representatives from Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritius, Kenya and Tanzania won orders from Southern Africa.

The African Publishers’ Network (APNET) is committed to the growth of international trade within the African continent. Based in Harare, it liaises with the ZIBF with the aim of promoting such growth.

Hill argues that the difficulties faced by Africa’s indigenous publishers are often not the result of activities by transnational publishers, but African governments who endeavor to impose restrictions on information and education. Hill notes that in 1992, the Kenyan government was publishing the country’s school textbooks in direct competition with local publishers. The latter, as a result, were being driven out of business. By securing Kenyan publishers’ admission to the International Publishers Association, Hill argues that British transnationals assured them world wide support against government tactics (Hill, 1992, p.50).

Hill argues that for more business to go to African publishers, or the local offices of transnationals, the local book production infrastructure must be strengthened. Only the, he writes, can the indigenous publisher “compete on a more equal footing” (Hill, 1992, p.52).

The British multinational publisher, Evans, is owned by a Nigerian country (Hill, 1992, p.52).

Zell (1998, p.106) notes that a African publishers fail to market their books efficiently. At a conference on publishing and book development in 1973, African libraries pointed out that while they received a lot of publicity from Northern publishers, they did not have similar information about books published in Africa. At a seminar twenty-five years later held by APNET, the Managing Director of the University of Lagos Bookshop confirmed that the same situation remained. Arguably, however, the African Book Publishing Record, the quarterly catalogue published in English, partially fills this gap.

Ashcroft et al. (1989, p.7) argue that control over language is one of the main features of imperial oppression. By introducing the idea of a standard version, language is used to perpetuate a hierarchical structure of power. As a result, post-colonial writing may strive to replace the language of the centre with “a discourse fully adapted to the colonial place” (ibid. p.38).

Ashcroft et al. (1989, p.195) point out that literature, amongst other arts, produced in post-colonial societies is not a simple adaption of European models. Rather, “the process of literary decolonisation has involved a radical dismantling of the European codes and a post-colonial subversion and appropriation of the dominant European discourses.”

Chakava (1996, p.91) suggests that “African copyright laws should make in mandatory for a foreign publisher who acquires rights from an African publisher to make a full acknowledgement of this fact in his own edition. The practice will not only expose and promote the African publisher to the international market but will also affirm that he is the holder of the copyright in the work.”

1. Ashcroft, B, Griffiths, G, Tiffin, H (1989) The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (London: Routledge)
2. Chakava, H (1996) Publishing in Africa: One Man’s Perspective (Nairobi: Bellagion Publishing Network)
3. Fawcett, G (1994) The unheard voices of Africa Logos 5/4, pp.172-177 (London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.)
4. Hill, A (1992) British publishers’ constructive contribution to African Literature Logos 3/1, pp.45-52 (London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.)
5. Kotei, S I A (1987) The Book in Africa Today (Paris: UNESCO)
6. Mbanga, T, Ling, M (1993) An aspring Frankfurt emerges in Africa. Logos 4/4, pp.209-214 (London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.)
7. Ramchond, K (1983) The West Indian Novel and its Background (London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.)
8. Schulz, H (1992) Bringing African Literature to Germany Logos 3/2, pp.94-97 (London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.)
9. Zell, H M (1998) The production and marketing of African books: A Msungu perspective Logos 9/2, pp.104-108 (London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.)