Litt-Africa 2019: That words may have life and impact the world around
By Gbenga Osinaike
Expectations were high that Tuesday morning November 5. And Ghana, the host country did not disappoint. The caliber of participants, the organization, the plenary sessions, the workshops and the fellowship made the conference unique.
It was Litt-Africa 2019 organised by Media Associate International. It was the first time the conference would hold in Africa.
The cultural troupe from the University of Ghana was on hand at the opening ceremony. The troupe took a side corner exuding local vibes as delegates trickled in. Many of the delegates had taken up residence at the MPlaza Hotel, Accra venue of the conference; so attendance was prompt.
As early as 9 am, participants had gathered at the main hall of the hotel for the business of the day. There was praise. There was prayer. There was a rendition of the Ghana National Anthem. By the time the conference kicked off, it was clear it was about the written word having a foothold in the world; through the horn of Africa.
Delegates came from about 20 countries of the world mostly Africa. A few notable delegates came from the US, the United Kingdom, Asia and the rest of the world.
But many things united all the delegates. The need to improve on their writing skill. The need to fellowship. The need to find partnership. And the need to create a platform that will continue to see to the spread of the written word.
Litt-Africa: Publishing house in rapidly changing times
The opening speech by the host chair of the conference, Lawrence Darmani was particularly stimulating. He welcomed delegates officially on behalf of the Local Organising Committee of Litt-Africa.
Darmani who is the CEO of Step Publisher in Accra, Ghana said participants had become “part of a fellowship of like-minded professionals in the publishing industry. ” You are part of this gathering because you love the printed word, which touches the heart of readers, bring life bearing words to them” he said.
The first speaker at the conference, Elliot Agyare talked on ‘leading your publishing house in rapidly changing times’. He observed that the publishing industry has gone through a lot of transition over the years. He, however expressed hope that the changing technology has only come to reinforce the printed matter.
Technology, a blessing
Rather than bemoan technology, Agyare who is the CEO of Smartline Limited and president of Ghana Book Publishers Association appealed to participants to take advantage of the new phase of publishing.
He described the theme of the conference: Bringing words to life, as apt. He then pointed out that each writer has a responsibility to make his work invaluable. “One of the ways to step up the game of publishing is to also go into digital publishing,” he said.
This, according to him, will make publishers have a wider audience. He however noted that some still prefer the printed matter despite digital technology. “The only way to go is to ensure quality production. The editors should collaborate with publishers to make our work invaluable” he counseled.
Changing lives through the printed matter
The conference progressed to workshops, interactive sessions and selected meetings. One of the workshops attended by this writer was taken by Barine Kirimi. It was on: The Christian Publisher as transformational leader.
There, Kirimi explored the possibility of publishers using their work as a change instrument. He attempted various definitions of leadership while also allowing participants to share thoughts on what it means to lead. Kirimi, a Kenyan is global publishing development coordinator for United Bible Societies. He is a trustee of Media Associate International.
There were several other workshops on the first day. They include, designing an effective marketing strategy. The power of storytelling. Ways to reduce printing cost and inventory through POD and short-run printing, designing covers. Content that sell. Building your author platform and a host of others.
That same day, Nigeria’s Lara Odebiyi, publisher and executive editor of Dabira Magazine regaled participants with her story. She narrated her journey in the publishing world. She shared thoughts on how she built followership over the years and how her journal has been a blessing to thousands of people.
Her story was particularly inspiring. She talked about striking human angle stories she had published in her journal. She also talked about the annual conference she organizes for women and how women of other faiths find time to attend the event. Some of these women according to her have ended up becoming Christians.
Using printed matter for reconciliation
A panel discussion on the first day of the programme centred on “publishing: hope for the hurting’. On the panel were a couple of discussants including Bishop Joseph Garang Atem from South Sudan who shared testimonies of how the written word is being used to give hope to the hopeless in South Sudan.
Another discussant, Luka Vandi from African Christian Literature also gave testimonies of how the written word has helped to bring reconciliation among men of different faiths in the North of Nigeria.
Garang had noted that if writers write effectively about the culture of their people such writing could go a long way to heal wounds. While disclosing that he picks a lot of pride in reconciliation he lamented the bleak history of South Sudan. He said the story of the country which has about 64 tribes have all along been written by foreigners. He however insisted that the paradigm has to change.
The Sudan example
He said the war in Sudan made a lot of negative impact on the country. But the country according to him has since moved on after the war and people are living in harmony. Garang said he chose bear the name Joseph so he could forgive people easily. “I am an addicted Jesus follower. I want to change lives. The time is too short to talk about forgiveness but you need to have an open heart for you to forgive.” He said.
Georges Late was another interesting resource persons from the Republic of Benin. He took a session on the second day of the event. He spoke on steps towards self-sustaining publishing. Incidentally his publishing firm, Presses Bibliques Africaines based in Cotonou was given an award by MAI at the end of the three-day conference. He gave hints on how to wade through challenging times in publishing. He emphasised the need to be resilient if one is to succeed in the industry.
Making people interested in printed matter
A panel discussion on how to make people interested in reading followed shortly after the general session. Nigeria’s Lekan Otufodunrin, President Journalists for Christ and a couple of other resource persons from other countries were on the panel. They shared thoughts on how to get people interested in what is being published.
One of the highlights of the discussion is that young people should not be made to see reading as a way of punishment. It was noted that many times when parents want to punish their wards they ask them to go and read their books. Such instruction according to the panelists would make the coming generation not value reading and possibly see reading as punishment.
Publishers’ assert yourself
Series of workshops followed afterwards. One of the workshops was anchored by Kenyan Jennifer Karina. Jennifer enchanted her listeners with testimonies of her exploits in Kenya and how she waded through challenging times. She urged publishers to assert themselves and take up challenging tasks. She and Nigeria’s Pusonnam Yiri handled the session on Path to Publication.
The conference progressed with side events, book exhibition and rapport among the participants. There was no dull moment. The intermittent refreshments, meals at the appropriate time and the ever burgeoning fellowship among participants made a whole lot of difference. The workshops were quite stimulating.
One of the workshops handled by Lilian Tindyebwa and Betty Kituyi made a lasting impression on this writer. The duo, who came from Uganda shared interesting story of how they grew their publishing outfit. They also talked on how they got support from Tyndale Publishing House to write books on some hitherto obscure areas of life. One of the books they brought to the conference was a compilation of the story of poor widows in Uganda.
Marketing sales and distribution
By Thursday, the last day of the event, it was clear the conference had made a lasting impression on many participants. The last general session was addressed by Coby Asmah who talked on Marketing, Sales and distribution in a digital Era.
It was an exciting session. Asmah, who is the founder and CEO of Type Company Ltd, took time to charge participants on the need to move with the age. He noted that the business space for printers and publishers is shrinking by the day. But he stated there is a need to think out of the box to be relevant in the new age.
Asmah’s presentation was an icing for the three-day conference. But the high point of the Litt-Africa was the enlivening spiritual atmosphere at the various sessions. The compere of the various sessions, Kingston Ogango, from Kenya did a good job of coordination. The prayer session on Thursday was inspiring. The discussion that followed on how to cope with challenging times was apt. It provided an enabling environment for participants to share their burdens and bond with one another.
Candlelight and the closing
There was candlelight session on the night of the closing. In all, about 150 persons registered for the conference. The quality of participants, materials and resources available for those three days will no doubt make a difference in the publishing landscape of Africa and indeed for the world.
Indeed the words of Rose Birenge, Chair, M.A.I Africa at the conference, urging Africa to “rise and let us together tell our story in words and pictures” seem to take a foothold in the minds of the largely African participants.
And the prophetic words of President of Media Associate International, John Maust who was at the conference all through came to pass. He had said in his opening remark that the conference would showcase “many of the significant achievements today by African Christian publishers and writers.”