Sir Bob Geldof has said that book charity Book Aid has "massive potential and needs to grow", predicting that online publishing is the way forward for Africa.
The singer turned anti-poverty campaigner was speaking at an event last night (21st January) at which the charity launched its new Open Doors library appeal, and marked the start of its 60th anniversary year.
Novelist William Boyd joined Geldof for a discussion event at Bloomsbury offices in London's Bedford Square, with Bloomsbury chief executive Nigel Newton, current president of Book Aid, chairing.
Geldof said the combination of investment money from China, debt forgiveness, aid coming in and new technologies, was giving huge impetus to African countries, with some were investing 25% of their GDP in education and reaping the rewards. "4G telephony is rolling out, tablets are on sale for $30, Africans will go online to tell their own stories," predicted Geldof. "There will be a counter explosion of African literature."
But he said aid was still very important to the continent, saying it only failed to work when it was "not aid" but a form of political bargaining. "Charity works. I'm big on charity," Geldof said. "Those agencies, we diss them, but they do great things. Aid supports the community at a basic level and Britain has done more and better than any other nation and leads the pack. I was bullshitting in 1984 when I said 'Just keep them alive', but it turned out I was right. Aid is vital to keep pumping the economy."
Boyd spoke of his experience growing up in West Africa, and of the "phenomenally entrepreneurial and energetic" culture of Ghana and Nigeria.
The evening marked the launch of Book Aid's new Open Doors appeal, aiming to create 60 child-friendly spaces - "Children's Corners" - in libraries in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Cameroon, Zambia and Zimbabwe between 2014 and 2018.
Open Doors is hoped to revolutionise access to books for thousands of children in sub-Saharan Africa, training librarians to work effectively with children, supplying new books from the UK an providing each library with a grant for refurbishment and the local purchase of books. The project will be delivered at a local cost of £600,000, with Book Aid looking to raise £200,000 this year.
Meanwhile a digital pilot project is also currently underway in Kenya, Book Aid director Alison Hubert told The Bookseller, using tablets with Kenyan content uploaded. "We want to see how much it encourages reading, the pulling power of the tablets," she said. "We are also talking to some UK publishers – we are very interested in getting digital content."
"But it's important that we still provide the books," she added. "It's the right time to do it [the pilot] in Kenya, but other countries don't necessarily have that infrastructure."