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Provision of education at all levels has always been one of the, if not the, most important expectation that Africans demand of their governments. In the twenty-first century even a bachelor’s degree is no longer good enough for the few available government jobs or for those in the private sector.
Awareness of the extent of the demand for education has made private investment in education profitable. Private universities and colleges in East Africa currently outnumber public universities and the population of university students is growing by leaps and bounds.
This translates into high demand for textbooks and reference books and, in principle, expands opportunities for and viability of locally producing those books. Available evidence, however, does not bear this out. On the contrary, demand for the increased number and variety of books is being met by importation, mostly from UK and US publishers, and increasingly also from India. Weaknesses of the African book chain – capacities in authorship, editorial functions, publishing finances and management, marketing, distribution – are most acutely felt in academic publishing. The Print-On-Demand and digital print solutions that have been touted remain largely chimeric.
African academic authors and their publishers in Africa are not likely to challenge the predominance of the multinational publishers, not in the near future, nor in the foreseeable future. This reality is fraught with contradictions requiring and inventing their own resolutions. Unmet demand creates a market for photocopying, first by chapters, which leads mutatis mutandis to wholesale piracy as the regular source of academic textbooks. Bona fide publishers with moral compunction will probably die out. The paper will explore and elucidate these issues and propose possible solutions in the interest of indigenous and multinational publishers with an interest in African education and development.