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Syndicate To Improve On Educational Publishing 

Interviewed By Azore Opio

The President of the newly created Cameroon Book Publishers’ Syndicate (CAMBOPUBSYN) Mr. Samuel Alemji Atabong, also Assistant General Manager of ANUCAM Educational Books PLC, Buea, in this interview says the time has come to put order in the book publishing sector in Cameroon.

He says the local publishing industry will be in a worse situation if Government remains passive to the situation. Alemji, therefore, exhorts Government to give this sector the support it needs to carry out its all-important role of enhancing human development in the country. He, however, says while trying to improve on educational publishing as well as preserving the culture of the nation, they will combat book pirates. Read on:

The Post: You recently registered an organisation by name the Cameroon Book Publishers’ Syndicate. What is it all about?

Samuel Alemji: This is the first and so far the only legalised and officially recognised syndicate of book publishers in Cameroon. The syndicate covers the entire nation and is governed by a constitution and internal regulations drawn up and adopted by members in accordance with the laws in place. The seat of the Syndicate is Limbe in the Southwest Region. The Certificate of Registration was signed by the Registrar of Trade Unions in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security on December 7, 2010.

What does CAMBOPUBSYN have as objectives and plan of action in the book publishing sector?

Essentially, the objective is to study, defend and protect the economic, industrial, commercial and professional rights and interests of members. To actualise our objectives, however, we shall provide a common forum for book publishers and stakeholders to enable direct dialogue and fruitful exchanges between Cameroonian publishers. Secondly, as book publishers who invest hugely in satisfying the educational needs of the country, we shall try to improve on educational publishing in collaboration with the biggest stakeholder in education, the State.

We also intend to explore ways to use publishing to preserve the cultural heritage of the country and enhance the cultural values of our people. We also plan to promote books and the culture of reading in Cameroon by organising or supporting the organisation of national book fairs, supporting school and council libraries; and this includes moves to improve the standards of publishing in the country.

Cameroonian book publishers have often complained of overwhelming difficulties. What, then, can you say are the challenges they face?

Some people think publishing is a high risk and low yielding venture, and therefore a dangerous business to put one’s money in. People who say this do not understand the trade. Publishing companies in the US or Britain for example make a lot of money and are popular in the stock exchange. Even in Africa, publishing generally has yielded quite substantial profits in the last 25 years. Unfortunately, this mistaken view seems to be shared by some persons who have refused to do anything to encourage the sector.

For example, in the area of financing, banks and other financial institutions have been unwilling to finance book publishing because they harbour what we think are mistaken notions about the sector. This lack of financing is a major handicap especially as textbook publishing involves a huge capital outlay. The second major challenge is the fact that publishers pre-finance the operations of the major distributors, customers and booksellers. These major stakeholders, who constitute a major chain in the distribution process, hardly pay upfront for their books.

Collectively, they take huge stocks of books on credit for long periods of time alongside high discounts from us. And I can tell you that in spite of all these, some of them tend to be condescending in their relations with us and give us a hard time when it comes to recovering our money for books actually sold or even unsold. We have to collectively address this issue as a matter of urgency, because it is a serious stumbling block to the growth of publishing in Cameroon.

Does your Syndicate count on the State to help out in some of your difficulties?

Absolutely. Government should support the publishing sector actively because education is at the centre of human development and you cannot have education without books. Such support should come in the form of direct financial aid and guarantees to enable financial houses to grant loans to bona fide Cameroonian publishing establishments.

Another way that the State can help sustain the publishing sector is by implementing some policies that are already in place such as free primary education, which actually means the non-payment of fees and the provision of books and other educational materials. At present, the application of the policy is not very effective because the real obstacle to education at primary level is lack of books, not inability to pay fees.

The majority of school children, especially in backward rural areas attend school with few books. In countries like Ghana where the policy of free primary education has been fully implemented, publishers have been greatly empowered and this has reflected in the standard of books and the quality of education that obtains there. It is in this vein that we salute the recent position taken by the Prime Minister, that policies should be put in place to empower indigenous publishing and literary creativity in the country.

Is piracy a not a major problem to the publishing business in Cameroon?

Oh, yes! Book piracy is a big threat. Each year, the book publishing sector loses hundreds of millions to criminal pirates. Before now, we have been fighting it in dispersed ranks. But now that a Syndicate has emerged, we want to use this opportunity to inform book pirates that their hour of reckoning has come. We also wish to advise parents to be vigilant when buying books, because one of our strategies shall be to carry out operations everywhere, even in schools, to seize and destroy pirated copies of our books.

Tell us about standards in the publishing sector. Many people think the quality of the books published by Cameroonians is poor.

Publishing is a profession and only professionals can produce quality results. With the Syndicate in place, we intend to set high standards and to organise training so as to improve on the professional standards and on the quality of publishing as a whole. We also intend to put some order in the sector.

For example, we shall work with the Government to ensure that only officially registered and genuine book publishers should have their books in the official book list or should benefit from certain advantages. The current practice whereby illegal and tax-evasive self-publishers dribble the laws and have their books inserted in the official book list, in contravention of the official regulations in Cameroon shall be combated with vigour.

How would you react to allegations that publishers corrupt officials at the Ministry of Education and in the various schools to get their books inserted in the official lists?

These are just allegations. But one cannot completely dismiss them. I want to state here that we are against corruption. If tomorrow, we have concrete evidence of such malpractices, the Syndicate shall certainly take action. At our level, we have already resolved to join in the national fight against corruption. We shall increase our vigilance and shall sensitize all stakeholders concerned to stay clear of corrupt practices.

What would you tell potential publishers?

Our Syndicate has come at the right moment. We are calling on all publishers of Cameroonian nationality to register with CAMBOPUBSYN so that together we can speak and fight in one voice. I shall equally call on all the Ministries that are stakeholders; Basic Education, Secondary Education and the Ministry of Culture and the others, to embrace us and our ideas so that together we can reform the publishing sector which is very crucial to the social, political and economic development of any nation.

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