A key objective and strength of the Sharjah Publishers Conference has been to connect publishers from the global publishing community with the African publishing world. This year’s African presence has increased again, with participants from 18 African countries (excluding North Africa/Arab countries), many of them Francophone, including Benin, Burkino Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritius and Zaire for the first time, along with many returning participants.

Ernest Oppong, Executive Director of the African Publishers Network (APNET), based in Accra, Ghana, has been representing African publishers at the Publishers Conference since 2018. Over this period, he has acquired new knowledge on current trends in book publishing and translation which he can then disseminate through the APNET newsletter, creating awareness of African publishers in the international publishing communities and providing networking opportunities which will expand rights trading.

Lola Shoneyin, publisher at Ouida Books in Nigeria, is attending for the first time, and notes that her key objective for this year’s fair is knowledge sharing. She comments: “Being in Sharjah itself is so important. I have been to book fairs where the African presence comprised a publisher or two from Egypt. I don’t blame the book fairs themselves – finding publishers in Africa who can meaningfully contribute to and benefit from exposure to the global marketplace takes extensive investigation. But there are many of us publishers who can and will benefit. We are looking for new ways to trade with neighbouring regions and continents, as well as trading amongst ourselves. There is always something to learn at Sharjah.”

Sandra Tamale, founder editor of Editora Trinta Zero Nove in Mozambique, first attended in 2019, shortly after launching her publishing house which focuses on publishing books in translation from around the world into Portuguese. She describes her first Sharjah Publishers Conference as “mindblowing”, and quickly developed a global network of publishing colleagues and friends who had been in the industry for many years who were generous enough to share their wisdom. The conference was the starting point of her international publishing journey which led to winning a London Book Fair Excellence Award in 2021. Tamale congratulates the Sharjah Publishers Conference for “its focus on the global South, and in particular on smaller publishers who don’t have the resources to attend international book fairs.”

As well as 40 publishers from Africa attending this year’s conference, there will be a round table focused on African publishing markets hosted by Senegalese publisher Sulaiman Adebowale, founder and director of Amalion, a Dakar-based multilingual publishing initiative. Through his round table, Sulaiman hopes to present the rich array of content that is produced by African publishers that has a place in the global publishing scene, as well as provide practical advice to publishers looking to sell translation rights into African languages.

The Francophone African presence this year will comprise 18 publishers from 11 countries who were selected for the quality of their catalogue, their dynamism and their interest in foreign rights. Agnes Debiage of ADCF Consulting in Paris, and a key driver of the French-speaking African presence, notes that their motivations for attending are to expand their international network, draw on inspiring initiatives from elsewhere, discover a range of titles which could be integrated into their catalogue, establish face-to-face relationships, and start real relationships with other publishers around the world.

Sharjah will play an essential role over time to enable collaborations between the linguistic areas of this great continent. Also representing African authors at the fair are literary agents Bieke van Aggelen of the Netherlands based African Literary Agency and Raphaël Thierry, of France based Ægitna Literary Agency.