Literacy Growth and Book Development in Africa: Is There Any Relationship?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Literacy is fundamental to national development, and this explains why nations buy into global literacy development agendas so as to eliminate illiteracy which often affect, social development. African nations are fully aware that the consequences of illiteracy are detrimental to the achievement of national goals. However, it has become crucial for African nations to also appreciate that basic literacy skills may not be sufficient for achieving personal or national goals (Desrochers & Major, 2008). In Africa, the rampant incidences of low adult literacy, often occasioned by poor education or limited time spent at school, is compounded by the absence of literacy activities in society that ensure that individuals become and remain fully functionally literate. In today's world, individuals need to be adequately and functionally literate in order to be fully capable of living healthy, enjoying long life, participating in social interactions in communities, taking good care of a family, acquiring knowledge and expressing one's thought.

In an information-driven and digital world the ability to read and write is no longer considered an adequate definition of literacy. Thus, as gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is no longer good enough on its own for determining nations' socioeconomic wellbeing, so also has a gross literacy rate is inadequate for judging literacy development of countries. Instead, book output and use statistics, in terms of number of titles and volume of copies produced might give a better picture of how much a society is involved in reading and writing, and therefore literacy and knowledge advancement. Valdehuesa (1985) points out that "the quality, quantity, and diversity of books produced by a society are important indicators of that society's level of development, intellectual sophistication, capacity for technological innovation, and industriousness." Accordingly, both literacy and book production rates would be good indicators of a nation's level of development.

True literacy development should engender increased readership and increased demand for books and other print and non-print reading materials, as well as drive the writing and production of diverse reading materials locally. African countries may not present a typical case, considering that reading and book publishing are not indigenous cultures. Reading and book publishing cultures are yet to be firmly rooted as video films and video clubs in urban areas. The economic misfortunes of Africa's relatively young nations which were yet to establish infrastructures required of a modern society such as vibrant book industries greatly hampered advancement in book and reading development in the 1980-90 decade, disrupting the growth of a fledgling industry. Other media and industries may be better-placed to resist, withstand or easily recover from shocks than the book industry. As a consequence, Nigeria for example lost the book buying and reading mentality that obtained prior to the mid-1980s. Indeed, book apathy presently bedevilling the country can be traced to politicocum-socio-economic crises of the mid-1980s through to the 1990s, and the effects of a devastating cure that was tagged "Structural Adjustment Programme" (SAP).

The major reason why such crises have grave impact on the book industry is because the book as a cultural good is yet to take its rightful place in people's and governments' lists of priorities (Adesanoye, 2005), and literacy is still being perceived in its rudimentary definition of being able to read and write. According to Adesanoye (2005), "Nigeria is still far from being a book aware society, where whatever the circumstances, the book must be bought and read at all cost." In addition to economic recession and poor management of economies, are wars that have ravaged some African countries and vitiated development earlier recorded. Fortunately, Liberia and Sierra Leone are recovering from the throes of war, but Somalia and parts of Sudan have remained under indecisive internal disturbances for a long time, and there are ever frequent flashes in other countries, all of which deal brutal blows on books and libraries, as they engender, exacerbate, and prolong emancipation from poverty and illiteracy (Turay, 2005a). …