African focus at Casablanca book fair

More than 700 publishers from 54 countries took part in 23rd SIEL, which concluded February 19th.

People browse through books on a stand at the SIEL (International Book Fair) in Casablanca.

2017/02/19 Issue: 94 Page: 22

The Arab Weekly
Saad Guerraoui

Casablanca - Morocco’s improved diplomatic ties in Af­rica had an effect on the SIEL (Internation­al Book Fair), which turned into an ideal place for a close look at African literature and cul­ture.

The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was the guest of honour at SIEL during its 11-day run in Casablanca, with its 11 members showing titles to highlight the countries’ contribu­tions to literature. Conferences, book signings, children’s activities and round tables took place during the book fair.

ECCAS consists of Angola, Bu­rundi, Cameroon, Gabon, Equato­rial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Chad, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A programme titled Cultural Pro­ductions in Central Africa and Their Natural Environments: Sahara, Sa­hel, Tropics brought together intel­lectuals from ECCAS countries to discuss the cultural perception of the phenomenon of space and its meanings by writers.

More than 700 publishers from 54 countries took part in the 23rd SIEL, which concluded February 19th. Organisers said they expected more than 350,000 people to visit the fair.

The number of visitors has been steadily increasing in recent years, rising from 300,000 in 2015 to 340,000 in 2016 despite the low rate of reading among Moroccans.

Second-hand books received a new life at a stand co-managed by Mohammed Kabbaj.

“Buying power in Morocco is not the main cause of the low rate of reading because there are plenty of people who spend a lot of money on other items such as cigarettes and drinks in coffee shops,” said Kabbaj.

“The main reason is the lack of motivation to read that keeps Mo­roccans away from books,” he said, adding that high tax rates on im­ported books also hinder book pur­chases.

SIEL Director Hassan el-Ouazzani said the absence of reading from the educational curriculum was a major obstacle to promoting this culture among Moroccan students.

A recent study by Moroccan asso­ciation for the promotion of culture Racines, with the support of the UN cultural agency UNESCO in 2015 and 2016 showed that almost two-thirds of Moroccans did not buy any books in the 12 months prior to the survey and that 84.5% did not enroll in any library over the same period.

Only 5.1% of respondents said they frequented libraries several times a week and 9.8% had at­tempted to write poems or novels, added the study.

“The second-hand books come to fill this void because they are af­fordable,” said Kabbaj, who owns a bookstore in Essaouira where he deals mainly with foreign tourists.

“There are rare and out-of-print books that cannot be found any­where else throughout the world. Our role is to fill this hole in the book market and circulate these books throughout generations,” he said.

Dar America, an American cultur­al centre in Casablanca, organised Technology, Innovation and Science.

“We have set up our booth as a laboratory for children of different ages using electronic games where they can build a windmill, learn about recycling,” said Eva Coffey, assistant cultural affairs officer at the US Department of State.

“We want to encourage the young generation about what they can do themselves and empower them to learn about science, invent technologies and solutions for dif­ferent problems they’re going to be facing.”

Dar America sells books in Ara­bic, French and English.

“In Arabic, we’re selling books that are translations of American authors in various topics such as business, entrepreneurship and politics,” said Coffey.

Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.

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