You could be forgiven for not realising it, but the World Book Capital 2017-18 is just down the road from me here in West Africa, in Guinea Conakry.

In another reminder that publishing in the rest of the world doesn’t stop for Christmas, representatives of the UAE’s Emirati Publisher’s Association have been in Guinea Conakry for a three day books trade visit.
But who knew?
If we think of West Africa at all when the subject of literature and book markets come up we probably think of Nigeria, but in fact West Africa has rich literary culture extending across the region.

No, don’t look so surprised. West Africa’s literary heritage dates back a lot further than you might think.
Back when the New World was still “undiscovered” and England was just beginning to lay the foundations of its modern university system, the fabled city of Timbuktu (in modern day Mali) was THE book capital of the world, with more tomes than the most prestigious English universities.
But for West African authors, even in the wealthier countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, the odds are stacked against them in terms even getting published, let alone of finding any international recognition for their endeavours.

Bookstores and book distribution in the way that we in the west take for granted are sparse, and that in turn limits what local publishers can and will do for authors.
Self-publishing? No easy feat here.
Sadly the Big 5 western ebook retailers have no presence in West Africa. Here in The Gambia the Kindle store is not even visible – search for a book on Amazon and only the print and audio versions will show – and of course that in turn means few authors and publishers here are aware of or have access to services like KDP. No Google Play, Apple or Nook, and Kobo just redirects to the US store.
So the visit of the Emirati Publishers Association to Guinea Conakry is welcome, as a sign one of the world’s leading internationalist literature bodies, Sharjah, is extending its reach into the region.
MENAFN reports that, aside from being received by the Guinean president, Alpha Conde,

The delegation also met with the president of the local writers federation and many Guinean writers, to discuss ways of enhancing the ties between Sharjah and Conakry, the possibility of translating books and bringing writers to Sharjah to support them.

Gulf News reported EPA Executive Director Rashid Al Kous as saying,

Our visit to Conakry highlights EPA’s desire to participate in various cultural forums and events relating to the publishing industry and translation. Through this visit we hope to open up new horizons for Emirati and Arab publishers and writers and introduce them to other countries’ contributions to the book industry.

The folk behind Sharjah and the UAE’s global book and literacy endeavours are to be applauded for their efforts to engage not just with the nascent markets around the world, but also the embryonic ones.
It’s just a shame no-one seems to have noticed.