The previous article highlights the different stages of publishing and we decided to go a unique way in our research to showcase the past, present and future of publishing in Uganda with conversations with creatives who work in the different stages of publishing in Uganda.
We started this research off with a conversation with Charles Batumbuze. Now before I introduce him, let me tell you that everyone I met told me “Patricia, this is the man to talk to before you even start” and well, we do not look down on great advice and boy o boy was I glad because he started us off with a bang. He took us on a journey to the past.
The First Press
It is said that the first printing press was brought into Uganda in 1878 by Alexander Mackay, a missionary printer; whom in 1876 Frederick Ulmer of London supported with an Albion Hand proofing Press as part of the CMS equipment for the pioneer work in Uganda. It is Mackay who introduced the first printing press on which the early reading materials and the “Biscuit Bible” were printed.
This Bible assumed the name of the Biscuit Bible because it fitted very well into the old-fashioned biscuit tin that was used to protect it from white ants. A copy of this Bible is preserved at the Uganda Museum, Kampala. This press was located at Natete near Kampala.In 1884, he assembled the Press from which he printed his translated versions of St. Matthew’s Gospel (1887) and St. John’s Gospel (1892). These translations were the first books in a Ugandan language.
On this same Press were printed several reading charts, alphabets and the first postage stamps issued in Uganda.(Ikoja Odongo- Publishing in Uganda)
East African Literature Bureau
Post World War two, an East African Governors Conference was held. At the conference, it was decided that a printing press should be established at Makerere College, and that they should appoint an expert on African literature.
The expert chosen, Mrs Elspeth Huxley was tasked with establishing a program geared toward publishing literature in major vernacular languages. Her terms of reference were: to carry out an East African literature survey to establish what was available, and in what quantities, and to make recommendations to help establish what kinds of books Africans needed most.
Her research revealed that Africans wanted books that made them literate so that they could acquire skills to improve their standards. It is based on this that the East African Literature Bureau was formed in 1948 with the objectives of
i) Stimulation of thought through books and booklets about the country’s natural resources, their care and use; the process of government; head and disease; its citizens’ responsibilities – a subject of primary importance in the changing society of East Africa;
ii) Books and charts for the education of the child and the adult;
iii) Books to encourage an interest in reading for other purposes than for immediate practical end;
iv) Assistance to the indigenous authors in order that they may take part in the provision of books for their own people;
v) The development of periodical literature;
vi) The building up of a library service
By the end of 1950, the East African Literature Bureau-The Ugandan division had published 65 titles in a total of 350,000 copies. From 1956 to 1957, the Bureau published 53 titles and reprinted 22 of them. Between 1959 and 1962, it published a total of 86 titles and had reprinted 37 of them. (Credit: Ikoja Odongo- Publishing in Uganda)
Now do bear with me, we are still covering the past. And it is a dicey one, very interesting but with new developments…….
Uganda gained its independence in 1962 and this ushered in a new era which of course came with twists and turns. The country’s leaders were ready for the challenge and placed much of their investment in education with reforms including creating more schools and opening public libraries amongst others. This of course meant there had to be books and scholastic supplies.
Unfortunately, there were no facilities to provide them at the time thus the country had to continue importing from Britain. It was during this time that the idea of starting an indigenous publishing industry began to float around. Dr. S.J. Luyimbazi Zake, the Minister of Education at the time was quoted to have said,
“Obviously, if Uganda Publishing House produced a book, it was going to displace some other books, and certain people, therefore, decided to be obstructive. At the moment no less than 60 percent of the textbooks used in our schools in Uganda are published by Longmans………….We are only determined to develop our own potential of which there is plenty and to provide our own facilities for publishing. Who ordained that if a textbook is not published by Longman, it is not a textbook at all?”
It should be noted that the development of indigenous publishing was not taken kindly by some British publishers who had had a monopoly of the book market in Uganda.
Maurice Macmillan, a British publisher is thought to have said: “Africans are determined to write and print their own books, and that being so, all his company had done was to be commercially alert and get in first.”
Moving to the 1990’s, with privatization in the country, various bookshops emerged. These include among others: MK Publishers, Fountain Publishers and Mukono Bookshop Ltd to mention but a few. It should be noted that Uganda Bookshop is the oldest bookshop in the country, incorporated in 1927. It has its own printing press, Mackay Press named after Alexander Mackay.
Past is experience. Present is experiment. Future is expectation. So better use your experience in your experiment to meet your expectation.Anonymous
The publishing industry in Uganda changed quite a lot over the years and some would say it’s due to the creation of organisations whose activities are geared towards it. One such organisation is the National Library of Uganda which was established by an act of parliament in 2003.
The National Library Act of 2003 states that” Every publisher of a book or document in Uganda, at his/her cost to deposit three copies of the book or document or one copy of the video gram or film and ten copies in the case of any government departments with the National Library.” This is what is referred to as a legal deposit. The main goal of legal deposits is to preserve Uganda’s documented heritage.
The National Library of Uganda became the national bibliographic control agency responsible for ensuring legal deposit of materials by publishers, allocating the international standard book numbers(ISBN) and International Standard Serial Numbers (ISSN) and establishing and managing a National collection of Uganda.
Its mandate is to collect, organise, preserve and disseminate Uganda’s Documented Heritage and to oversee Local governments and communities in the establishment and management of public and community libraries.
We were delighted to have a conversation with Mr Osinde, the Head of Technical Services at The National Library of Uganda. He enlightened us on how there has been immense growth in the number of books published in the country and deposited at the National Library.
It should be noted that the growth could even be larger however not every author has deposited their books at the Library. I would be remiss not to implore anyone who has authored, in the process of authoring or even just thinking about it to deposit their book at the National Library.
After all, we write to leave a legacy and the National Library is the custodian of written legacies.
In a conversation with Rachel Kizza, Project Coordinator of African Writers Trust, she had words of wisdom to share on how we as writers can get our writing to the next level. “The publishing industry in Uganda is growing but writers need to understand that they need to do the hard work because it will eventually pay off.
We do not have the publishing structures like how it is abroad where one can have a literary agent. It is best for writers to align themselves with people who know what they are doing and understand the Ugandan market. If you want to make money from your writing, give it your 100%, look at the quality and most importantly follow the process.“
One of the challenges for Ugandan writers is piracy. We have the well known Nasser road where anything and I mean anything can be duplicated and thus many writers have lost income due to unscrupulous people copying their books and selling them. There is the primary piracy where one’s book is recreated and printed and secondary piracy where one’s book is photocopied or shared via PDF.
We conversed with Charles Batumbuze, a man of many hats who is also the Executive Director of Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation(URRO). URRO has the mandate to license users of copyrighted works, collect fees on behalf of the creatives, distribute royalties made and fight piracy on behalf of writers and publishers.
They do this by working hand in hand with Uganda Registration Services Bureau to carry out raids at these facilities and also through the creation of holograms. The Hologram is a sticker with an intricate and distinguished design which is very difficult and expensive to copy. This sticker is placed on original copies of books to distinguish them from a fake.
Another challenge writers said they were facing was getting their books beyond the borders of Uganda. Transport costs to the different African countries were exorbitant and thus we can not even begin to talk about beyond the shores of Africa. However, Amazon has indeed provided a platform that makes it easier but due to the difference in financial platforms, one finds it difficult to actually get the funds to the writer through their bank accounts so a writer has to open a virtual bank account but that still has its own challenges. One up and coming solution is an eCommerce platform for African books – www.africanbooks.com. It is still in the testing stages but could this be the amazon for African books? Stay tuned!
Nothing opens up the heart and mind like books do, and so they have the power to change the whole world. That’s why they are burning books. To stop us thinking, and feeling, and imaginingThe Beast’s Garden by Kate Forysth
Really that is the power of storytelling. Stories have the power to take us to places we never imagined and dream up scenarios we never deemed possible. I know I know why the hullabaloo? Stories this, stories that but I can not claim to dislike stories. In fact I am the complete opposite. I am totally in love with stories. Everything about stories makes me happy. Give me facts and I just fall asleep. Give me stories and there you see me become alive. That is the power of stories. They have the magic to sweep across on a carpet ride just like in Aladdin.
▲ Stories allow people to connect with us. When you hear the story of another, suddenly you are put in their shoes and you begin to relate with them differently.
▲ Stories emotionalize information. They give colour and depth to otherwise bland material and they allow people to connect with the message in a deeper, more meaningful way, as noted by Peter Guber
This is the power of stories so what are you going to do with all the stories you have heard about, especially the ones from your grandparents. How are you going to immortalize them so that generations from now, they will be reading it on the cave walls of today?
We talked to a couple of people within the publishing industry and how they see the future of the publishing industry
Keziah Elaine Ayikoru is an architect, fashion designer, author and editor. Yes, she is the definition of multi-passionate. And this is what she had to say
“ I enjoy being in the publishing industry as an editor. I have also come alongside self-publishing writers to accelerate their journeys by managing their book processes from helping them ideate for their book, to editing, to book cover design coordination to finally supervising the typesetting and printing.
I feel that the publishing industry in Uganda is a ripe industry that is going to gain a lot of traction in the next 5 years because people are writing more books. Despite all the negativity from some ignorant people who say Ugandans don’t write or read books, many more writers are being birthed every year in Uganda. The surge in authors is causing us within the ecosystem to desire and chase after great quality because that is what will make the difference between one book and the next.
All of us in the industry can improve by understanding our crafts and learning from countries that have even more established industries. Our books should compete favourably at international levels. That should be our goal collectively.”
Well you have heard the lady so what say you?? Luckily for you and I, Mable Amuron, an editor with Ibua Publishing also lent her wisdom.
“Publishing industry is not centralized in that there is no system that tracks the books published in Uganda which are not deposited at the National Library of Uganda thus one can not really know the exact number of books published.
That said, in the recent years, there has been an explosion of self-published books but this of course comes with its challenges where you need to finance the entire publishing process. As a self published author, one needs to understand that editing should be top of your priority.“
Stories, Writing , Publishing- all these are catalysts for change. From time memorial, the stewards of the pen- the writers, the poets have always been part of the changes that come to the nation. They can be called the revolutionaries through the pen.
Tonny Rutakirwa , a Ugandan-British Writer and Publisher highlighted the difference between Ugandan and British Publishing industries. We of course cannot go over the fact that the British Publishing industry started way back.
The U.K Publishing industry started in 1476 when William Caxton introduced a printing press to England and published his first book, The Recuvell of the Historyes of Troye. CCeeeiii, people!! That is the 15th Century. We are in the 21st Century. We are talking of six centuries ago so it is no wonder that the U.K publishing industry is as it is.
According to the International Publishers Association, The U.K publishing industry has a turnover of £6 billion, with export income accounting for almost 60 per cent of revenues. The publishing industry directly employs 29,000 people in the UK and supports more than 70,000 jobs.
Plagued by the challenges he faced whilst publishing his book in Uganda, Tony moved to the U.K where he set up his independent publishing firm and to date has written 33 books in line with his goal to write 33 books by the age 33. He turns 33 years old next year 2023. Now can you beat that?
He highlighted in the difference that the U.K publishing industry had well-defined systems that ran like a well-oiled machine. It took time to get there but now that it has, it moves on well. For the Ugandan publishing industry to get there in the future, there is a need to create systems that govern the entire publishing industry with emphasis on international standards.
There is so much to share but I will have to end here but one thing I hope you have learnt is that it takes intentionality and consistency for us as Ugandan writers to get to the levels we wish to get to. Wishes and dreams are great but we need to put our fingers to the keyboard or if you are old school, pen to paper and get writing. The generations are waiting.
This project would not be possible without the support of the British Council #SouthernArts, Afrobloggers and Becoming The Muse and I can not thank them enough.
ASANTE SANA! APWOYO TUTWAL!
Cheers to more cuppas!