Akintayo Abodunrinin NEXT, August 20, 2011.
Sulaiman Adebowale has been trying to help writers get their works across since 2008 when he established Amalion Publishing based on his belief that “everybody needs a helping hand.”
Headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, the independent outfit whose mission is “to publish and disseminate innovative knowledge on Africa to strengthen the understanding of humanity,” has been going about its task quietly.
Interestingly, Adebowale did not set out to be a publisher. The English graduate from the University of Lagos wanted to be a journalist and got his wish when he was posted to Kano-based Triumph Newspaper for the mandatory one-year national youth service. The company retained him after he completed the exercise but his joy was short-lived. He soon became disillusioned by the polarisation caused by developments on the political scene within the company from 1992 to 1994 so he quit and headed to Senegal.
Adebowale, whose other interests include writing and publishing, resolved to concentrate on editorial work for books and journals in the land of the legendary Teranga and was later employed by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). His editing skills were further honed with the Pan-African research organization which has a strong publishing arm.
Beyond social science research
He recalls that “From CODESRIA I got much more involved in publishing and publishing development because I’m also trying to help develop the infrastructure network in Africa.”
He later traveled to the UK to obtain a Masters’s degree in Publishing and returned to the research institution before his eventual resignation. “I left CODESRIA partly because it was very much involved in social science research and I felt it is valid and good, but there is other knowledge outside social science research. African ideas, proverbs, philosophy, and the way we live our life. There is African knowledge we could share and that’s why Amalion doesn’t just do social science research.”
Amalion, a merger of Amal, his daughter’s name and lion, a very important symbol in Senegal, is a Pan-African publishing company. Adebowale explains why the outfit is based in a French-speaking West African country and its goal. “I’ve grown to love Senegal; I’ve become quite used to the environment but it’s a base. Amalion is a Pan-African publishing company. For now, we only have two Senegalese on our list. All the others are from outside Senegal. It has the infrastructural base and it’s not as challenging as other parts of Africa.”
Eclectic fiction series
So far, the fluent French speaker has about nine titles on subjects including History, Social Development, and Gender Studies on his list. He is also venturing into fiction books next year. As he explains, “It’s a small independent publishing program but we’ve got quite a lot of ideas. We also have a very small poetry collection … I like poetry and [we are] trying to develop the space for poetry publishing.”
The two poetry collections published by Amalion so far, have done very well. ‘Les Raisins du Baobab’ by Senegalese Ibrahima Amadou Niang, whom Adebowale describes as “an interesting guy” is one; ‘Give Me Room to Move My Feet’ by Mildred Kiconco Barya, a Uganda writer currently doing a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at Syracuse University, is the other. “I like the people we have managed to publish and I think we basically publish what we like,” the publisher says.
How does he make ends meet if he only publishes what he likes?
“I think we can make what we like marketable,” he explains “We’ve managed to have very interesting authors. The thing about publishing is that it is extremely challenging but for you to put something on the market, it has to be that alternative. An alternative voice and alternative perspective I think, stands a greater chance, particularly for African publishing. We don’t have the industrial capacity to challenge China, the US, and Germany so I think what we should be aiming for is the plurality of voices. If we bring something original we might stand a chance and I strongly believe that’s the way African publishing should go. We should be thinking of what other voice, experience and expertise, that we can put on the table. I think with that, we will sell but if it looks exactly like what’s out there, why should they buy it?
The publisher whose titles are available in bookstores in Nigeria, the UK, and the US, discloses that the fiction series he is starting is “a very eclectic stock.” A novel by Karima Abbott of Senegalese-St.Lucian’s parentage is on the schedule as is a work by a Nigerian writer. “We also have a Nigerian writer who has written an amazing love story set in two African countries and linked to a peace-keeping mission,” is all he reveals.
By pure chance
‘A History of the Yoruba People’ by Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, a professor and former director, Institute of African Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, is arguably Amalion’s most popular title in Nigeria for now. Fate, he says, had a hand in his getting the manuscript. “We got that manuscript by pure chance. It’s unbelievable. Akintoye who is based in the US, sends his manuscript to Hans Zell, a mentor of mine who has done a lot for African publishing. Hans Zell told him: I know the man who will do this for you. That’s how I got it but I didn’t get it because I am Yoruba. People ask me, how come ‘A History of the Yoruba People’ was published in Dakar - and I say, Yorubas are everywhere.”
Adebowale notes that there are differences between Akintoye’s work and Samuel Johnson’s seminal ‘The History of the Yorubas’ published some 88 years ago. “There are fundamental differences and they couldn’t have been covered by Johnson. One of the most fundamental is the origin of the Yoruba, which Johnson traces to the Middle East but which various studies later proved incorrect. This one is much more up-to-date; it goes to the 20th century and looked a bit at some post-colonial changes, the role of the Yoruba in Nigeria politics.
“Another very important fact he tries to point out is that Yoruba is not just Nigeria. We always jump to conclusion that Yoruba only belongs to Nigeria but Akintoye looked at Yorubas not only in West Africa but in Latin America and the Caribbean and he writes very well. All the other volumes out there are either on the Ijebus, the Ekiti, and Egbas, there is not a single volume on the Yorubas. There is a kind of Oyo-centric approach to the study of Yoruba while this book does that and moves beyond it to explore the Ekitis and the other kingdoms and groups. It has been well-received and we are going to bring out the paperback edition this year.”
Does he feel threatened by the big publishers around? Adebowale, who plans to set up a branch later in Nigeria and who will launch electronic titles of Amalion’s books, avers, “I don’t feel threatened at all. We don’t put the same thing on the table and we don’t go about it the same way in the sense that I engage authors differently and they may have another experience with the big multinational companies. There are benefits of a small publishing program and there are disadvantages as well. The field is wide for quite a lot of publishers and there is a huge volume of work that we don’t get the chance to publish. Maybe the more the merrier but we shouldn’t lose sight of quality, particularly in Africa. The more publishers that are doing quality work the better for the environment whether in Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Africa as a whole.”
Written by Akintayo Abodunrin and published in NEXT, August 20, 2011. Copyright 234Next.com, Timbuktu Media Ltd.