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Africa: E-Books Poised to Take Off

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 22, 2010 (101122)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Can Africa take the lead in taking advantage of e-books, as it has with the rapid expansion of mobile phones and innovations such as mobile banking applications? It is certainly too early to be sure. But there are some solid reasons to think this might be possible, more quickly than it seemed only a year or two ago.

The advantages are clear, if internet access and bandwidth is available. There are literally millions of books now available free at various sites on the web, and the number is still growing rapidly. And Amazon's Kindle store has some 750,000 titles, most available at prices well under their paper counterparts.

Of course, there are still academic publishing dinosaurs, such as Taylor & Francis or Palgrave Macmillan, who are carrying their predatory pricing policies into the e-book realm with prices approaching or exceeding $100 a book. And some commercial publishers are also raising e-book prices. But overall, the price curve continues to go down. Next year Google, which already provides millions of public domain books for free viewing and pdf download, will also be selling hundreds of thousands of low-cost downloadable e-books through Google Editions, starting in 2011.

You can check out the current selection of free books on Google by going to, choosing advanced search, and limiting the selection to books with "full view." Enter "Africa", and limit the search to the 19th century only, for example, and you will find more than a million books, including many classics of the colonial period in Africa.

And the ease of access in Africa is also increasing rapidly, with new fiber-optic links, access through mobile phones, and increased competition among providers, although the pace is very uneven. With Amazon's recent expansion of Kindle to over 100 countries, including most African countries (see list at, international Kindle usage is also increasing rapidly, although Amazon does not release detailed statistics.

Personally I still prefer the advantages of paper books for personal reading, and printing out selected pages from on-line files when I want to read more than a few pages. So I haven't yet invested in a Kindle (or asked for it as a gift!). But if I were traveling more frequently than I do, or living in a place with fewer bookstores and libraries, I would likely quickly change my mind, given the relative costs.

A Zimbabwean friend of AfricaFocus writes "I have used it in Zimbabwe and South Africa and it has worked very well for me. Average download time for a book is about a minute on a wifi connection. For use in Africa I think it is important to invest in a kindle with wifi capability(some are 3G only) because 3G is not as widely available as wifi. There are many wifi hotspots in Harare at restaurants, bars, etc and that is how I usually connect and download my books."

Kindle does ship to most African countries. But if you can't afford a Kindle, note that Kindle books can be downloaded and read (with a free application) on a PC or a Mac. And for those more at the cutting edge of change than I, and with better eyes, there are even Kindle apps for reading books on your iPhone, Blackberry, or other smartphone.

If you want a convenient way to make books available to friends in Africa who don't have access, note that just this month Amazon made it possible for you to give a Kindle book to anyone with an e-mail address and web access. They can read it on a PC or Mac even if they don't have a Kindle.

This issue of AfricaFocus contains links for sources of free books, as well as a sampling of Kindle e-books with Africa-related content.

If you do decide to get a Kindle this year for yourself, or as a gift, please do so through this link: That way you will be supporting AfricaFocus, at no extra cost to you!

And finally, I would very much welcome feedback from those of you who are using Kindle or other e-book formats in Africa, reporting on your experiences, good or bad, or suggesting additional books available on Kindle that might be added to the list below. I may summarize or quote your comments in an update, so let me know whether you want your name used or not. Write to me at


November 23

(1) I was a teacher in Lesotho for two years and if this technology could be cheap enough to distribute to children in high schools and primary schools it would be extraordinarily helpful. My students shared one textbook or reader between four or five students, and I was at a "well off" school.

I had my Nook with me recently in Ghana and, as long as you can get to a power source to charge once a week or so, it was great. ...

Ultimately, once all the pieces are in place this has the potential to be a very useful tool because no infrastructure is needed to support it (except the occasional access to electricity- which is becoming more and more feasible every day in Africa). - Amy Bowes

(2) Thanks for a great op-ed in the recent issue which I read online via a book group on LinkedIn and

I am a Nigerian Author and Publisher based in the US and published my first book titled A Heart to Mend on Kindle so it was interesting reading your opinion on the trend. The book has sold several copies with two being reported as sold in Africa. I also have a kindle myself and will be travelling to Nigeria this December with it. I will update you on the performance when I can. I also want to request that you update your list with my book [see below]. - Myne Whitman,

(3) Thanks for this very interesting post and for the interesting list of Africana. Having recently purchased a kindle I think there are enormous implications for use in Africa, by schools in particular. For example, there is huge scope for educational publishers to make kindle & other ebook readers editions of school curriculum texts available, which schools or departments of education could get multi-user licences or some such for, and once the pupils have been supplied with kindles then off they go, to a vastly improved learning experience and hopefully also a life-long love for reading, for as there are as you say millions of free downloads available. And perhaps that would also encourage more publishing in indigenous African languages. - Caroline, Johannesburg

(4) Thank you for beginning this essential discussion of using digital devices for reading.

I have done quite a bit of work with rural teachers in several African countries, as well as with other educators, and have been thinking very seriously about the use of e-readers for basic literacy, especially for children first learning to read, whether in a creche, pre-school or school.

At present I am talking with as many of my colleagues as I can to tease out what teachers of these children most need to get literacy going in African villages [and elsewhere as it applies]. I will spend some time from Jan thru May of this coming year visiting more of these educators and getting their ideas, and then I plan to write my findings into a sort of concept paper, hopefully helpful to those who wish to develop appropriate teaching technology in this area.

Your email lists books and groups which are not really addressing the early literacy needs of children. For starters, all reading materials for young children must be in their home language or you are essentially asking a child to learn to attach to text using a language s/he doesn't even know and sounds s/he doesn't make.

So far I have found almost nothing appropriate for young children learning to read. The problem here is that unless large numbers of children become functionally literate, they then go through the motions of school nce they hit the language of instruction in their country, and they never become competent readers or writers, never provide a market for books, which never sustains publishers to provide the books they needed as young children to become readers in the first place. - - Judith K. Baker, Education Consultant and Activist,, Member, Organising Committee of the 6th Annual Pan African Reading for All Conference, Tanzania 2009

November 25

(5) I enjoyed your piece: Africa: E-Books Poised to Take Off. I head up a project called m4Lit (mobile phones for literacy): we published short stories (and Shakespeare plays) in South Africa and Kenya for teens to read and comment on via their phones. In just over a year the project has achieved impressive uptake: over 60000 full reads of the stories, over 30000 reader comments and over 10000 competition entries. I believe that for the foreseeable future the mobile phone is the Kindle of Africa.

More here: - Steve Vosloo, Fellow, 21st Century Learning, The Shuttleworth Foundation

(6) I was delighted to read your article, Africa: E-Books Poised to Take Off, on
The e-book industry in Africa is ripe for expansion and I'm sure the next few years will be very interesting. I am doing my Masters degree on this subject at the University of Pretoria, and am currently circulating an online survey to e-book users in South Africa/Africa. I would be very grateful if you could help me out by completing this survey, sending it to some of your contacts who might be interested, or distributing it in some other way you see fit.

This is the link to the survey: - Susan Gaigher

(7) I am an avid reader who moved back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after a long stint in England. i have a Kindle (a gift from my wife 3 months ago) and after a couple of weeks of getting used to it i have found it nearly as good as paper book! i take it everywhere and jump between books as my mood changes. i love the fact i can get the latest books instantly from Amazon as books are hard to come by here. the e-ink is excellent for reading and the battery life is incredibly long. Unfortunately my 3 year old boy dropped it last week and now half the screen is blank! That never happened with my paper books! Alas a problem with plastic and glass... I have ordered a new one as i have decided it is absolutely perfect to my African environment. - Saifudin, Addis Ababa

Some Useful Sources for E-Books and Related Information

Google Advanced Book Search

Preview of Google Editions E-Book Format

Free Books Available for Kindle

Kindle Apps for PC, Mac, Iphone, Blackberry & more

Project Gutenberg

This group is experimenting with use of Kindles in school in Ghana, as well as collaborating with African publishers in making books available on Kindle.

Books from WorldReader Project

A Sampling of Africa-Related Books available on Kindle

[Note that some books may not be available in some countries because of limitations in the publisher's territorial copyrights.]

Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, Half of a Yellow Sun

Akpan, Uwem, Say You're One of Them.

Austen , Ralph A., Trans-Saharan Africa in World History

Beah, ishmael, A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier

Bloomfield, Steve, Africa United: Soccer, Passion, Politics, and the First World Cup in Africa

Brautigam, Deborah, The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa

Campbell , James T., Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005

Carlin, John, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

Carney, Judith, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World

Diawara, Manthia, In Search of Africa

Disney, Jennifer Leigh, Women's Activism and Feminist Agency in Mozambique and Nicaragua

Dowden, Richard, Africa: Ordered States, Ordinary Miracles

Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Crime of the Congo

Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth

Ferguson, James, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order

Falola, Toyin, The History of Nigeria

Ibe, Adimchinma, Treachery in the Yard: A Nigerian Thriller

Kapuscinski, Ryszard, Another Day of Life

Kidder, Tracy, Strength in What Remains C?tag=africafocus-20

Maathai, Wangari, The Challenge for Africa

Maier, Karl, This House Has Fallen

Malley, Robert, The Call From Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the Turn to Islam

Mamdani, Mahmood, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror

Mandela, Nelson, Conversations with Myself

Mandela, Nelson, Long Walk to Freedom

Meredith, Martin, The Fate of Africa

Meriwether, James H., Proudly We Can Be Africans: Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961

Meyer, Deon, Dead Before Dying

Meyer, Deon, Thirteen Hours

Mgendi, Mlenge Fanuel, Ng'ombe wa Maskini (Hadithi za Uswahilini)

Minter, William, King Solomon's Mines Revisited

Moore, Carlos, Fela: This Bitch of a Life

Nolen, Stephanie. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa

Nwaubani, Adaobi Tricia, I Do Not Come to You by Chance

Peel, Michael, A Swamp Full of Dollars: Pipelines and Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier

Polakow-Suransky, Sasha, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa

Quartey, Kwei, Wife of the Gods

Radelet, Steven, Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way

Richmond, Simon, et al., Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland Country Guide

Robinson, David, Muslim Societies in African History

Rogers, Douglas. The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe

Sirleaf, Ellen Johnson, This Child Will Be Great

Smillie, Ian , Blood on the Stone: Greed, Corruption and War in the Global Diamond Trade

Soyinka, Wole, You Must Set Forth at Dawn

Thompson, Leonard, A History of South Africa (3rd edition)

wa Thiong'o, Ngugi, Dreams in a Time of War

Whitman, Myne, A Heart to Mend

Wrong, Michela, Our Turn to Eat

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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