Does Tanzania have a reading culture? This was one of the questions raised at the launch of the Consortium of Academic Publishers in Tanzania, held at the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) on June 16. Although everybody present at the launch was very enthusiastic about the project and the possibilities it will offer to strengthen digital and academic publishing in Tanzania, there was also discussion about the challenges and difficulties of publishing in this country. Children grow up in an environment where reading isn’t stimulated and access to high quality publications is difficult. In addition to this, universities give credits for publishing in international journals, but do not acknowledge articles published in Tanzanian journals. That will be one of the tasks of the newly established consortium: liaising with the Tanzanian Commission for Universities to have a standardized list for all universities of recommended international AND indigenous journals.
Another big challenge that keeps coming up in discussions about publishing in Tanzania, is the lack of English proficiency among university students. Submissions that are being received by editors are simply not good enough and it takes too much time to rewrite all of the papers. Some say the lack of English language skills is caused by the fact that Kiswahili is the language of education for primary schools in Tanzania, but at secondary and higher education, all classes are taught in English. The shifting of language of instruction causes communication problems for both students and teachers along with a lack of native English teachers. After graduation from secondary school, English remains a big challenge for many students at universities.
Getting the logistics arranged for the launch was a challenge in itself as well; the venue and date were changed at the last moment so informing all publishers was not that easy. However, fifteen publishers from throughout the country were represented. Most of them from Dar es Salaam but university publishers from all corners of Tanzania were there: Arusha (in the North; Mwanza (in the North-West at Lake Victoria); Dodoma (Central Tanzania); and Lindi (in the South). The distances in Tanzania are long; travelling to Dar es Salaam from Mwanza takes about two days by bus and from Arusha, it takes about 7 hours to get to Dar by car. Luckily the rainy season has ended, so most of the roads are easier to travel on.
At the launch, VSO’s Programme Manager for secure livelihoods, Rose Tesha, spoke about the background of the project. I presented the results of the needs assessment and the next steps to be taken in the project. This included organising training for publishers and the formulation of advocacy strategies to create a positive effect on research output in Tanzania. After the presentations, Faith Shimba (COSTECH – Director of Knowledge Management), Walter Bgoya (Book Association of Tanzania – Chairman) and Niki Kandirikirira (VSO – Regional Director) signed the constitution of the consortium. In the constitution the consortium’s vision, mission, goals and objectives are mentioned and the roles of the governing entities are stated as well.
An important aspect of events like this is to have the media present. Some reporters were concerned about the relevance of the project for the general public in Tanzania. As mentioned above, people not attending school at a secondary level will not have any English tuition at all and therefore the possibility of translating academic publications into Kiswahili and publishing research results as pamphlets for the general public was discussed. Also, by strengthening digital publishing in Tanzania, more people will have access to online publications and will be able to access content through their phones. Hopefully this will lead to a strengthened reading culture in Tanzania.
In my next blog you will read more about the trainings to be organised for the academic publishers.