In Naguib Mahfouz’s storied Cairo, from 9-12 November 2023, Afreximbank gave fillip to creative undertakings on the African continent. Hosted at Cairo’s huge Al Manara International Exhibition Centre, a sprawling facility so vast that golf carts have to be pressed to service to ferry guests from point A to point B, it was clear that the bank, and the government of Egypt, meant business.
The declared intent of the bank is to devote $1Billion out of its treasure chest of $30Billion to the creative and cultural economy in Africa by 2024, with some $500Million already in the pipeline.
Working with CANEX, the Creative Africa Nexus, the bank showcased a broad range of talents from the continent and one of the highlights of the event was the launch of the Africa Book Factory with a main item being the announcement of a new Africa Publishing Prize.
In the past, the African publishing scene enjoyed the NOMA Award for publishing in Africa from 1979 up till 2009 when the prize was rested. The NOMA award, endowed by the Japanese publisher, Shoichi Noma, rewarded works from the continent’s many different parts. Conceptualized to work along much of the same lines as the NOMA prize – which brought attention to many books such as So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, Waiting Laughters by Niyi Osundare, Lawless and Other Stories by Sefi Atta and Odun Ifa by Abosede Emanuel – this new prize will honour excellent books in any African language, published in Africa. At the unveiling ceremony of the Book Factory, Eghosa Imasuen, publishing magnate at Narrative Landscape Press, revealed that the book factory will be resting on a tripod consisting of an annual publishing prize in Africa, annual capacity building workshops for writers all across the continent and a book factory newsletter to report milestones and progress.
Thus came unto the stage on November 9, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who gave a keynote speech at the Book Factory unveiling. In her characteristic way, she underscored the importance of hearing (and airing) all of the stories from the African continent. The Book Factory and the workshops, which the author is expected to participate in, will hopefully raise both the quantity and the quality of the new and varied stories from the continent.
To further drive home the point of the Book Factory, Afreximbank, on November 10, invited Africa’s first Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, to speak regarding his life experiences and thoughts on publishing, film, music and culture generally. Professor Soyinka did not disappoint. Touching on topics as varied as Mbari authors, the Cold War, Onitsha market literature, traditional hunting grounds, set design in Kongi’s Harvest, his antiquarian collections of various bric-a-brac, the internet culture and his noetic leanings, he rounded up the Book Factory launch with a rich, nuanced and magical denouement.
The rest of the time in Cairo was devoted to networking.
Guided tours to the pyramids can be undertaken for $120 per individual. Museum visits can be done for as little as $40. Those with less enthusiasm for the screaming sun of November in Cairo can just order the Mahfouz trilogy on Cairo from the bookstores and vicariously enjoy the city for $15 only.
Tade Ipadeola is a Nigerian poet who writes in English and Yoruba. He is a practising lawyer. In 2013 his poetry collection The Sahara Testaments won the prestigious Nigeria Prize for Literature instituted by the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG). Four years before then, in 2009, he had won the Delphic Laurel in Poetry for his Yoruba poem “Songbird” at the Delphic Games in Jeju, South Korea.