The future of French-speaking books will be African

The future of the Francophonie is African. And for the world of books in French to follow him, he will have to meet him. This is the observation that emerges from the States General of French-language books around the world, which have been taking place since Wednesday in Tunis.

In 2050, 90% of Francophones under 30 will be Africans, predicts Richard Marcoux, professor of sociology at Laval University and director of the Demographic and Statistical Observatory of the Francophone Space (ODSEF), which participates in the event.

However, books in French are rare in Africa. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is one bookstore for every five million French speakers. In comparison, in Belgium, there is one per 8000 speakers.

Quebec invisible in Africa

Of all the books in French published in the world, 85% come from France. And if Quebec is the second largest producer of French-language books in the world, it exports extremely few books outside Europe, explains Simon de Jocas, president of the Quebec Edition committee and director of Les 400 coups.

To export books to Africa, you would have to sell them at prices so low that the publisher would lose out, he said. “We send books to major fairs in Africa, but it’s still limited. […] That’s a quantity of X books for an X event. The remaining books can be found in local bookstores, but we have not solved the problem of the book and the fair cost. “

It must be said that, in the “southern” countries, the distribution network for books, these objects both cultural and commercial, is failing. And it entails completely disproportionate costs for the populations supplied.

“If I halved the costs of the book – and there, I would have nothing in my pocket – it would still be too expensive”, continues Simon de Jocas, who however tames the idea of ​​ceding rights to publishers. Africans without any hope of financial return. “My author would rather have his book sold cheaply and read, rather than being sold more expensive elsewhere and sleeping on the shelves,” he says.

“Quebec literature is exportable. […] But the majority [de nos livres] are consumed in Quebec or in the Canadian Francophonie, ”he explains. Some Quebec publishers are distributed in Europe, but “outside of that, it’s very difficult”. “Me, the Quebec publisher living a few hours from New York, I go through a French distributor to enter the United States,” he points out.

The question of price

At the Francophone bookseller Clairefontaine in Tunis, the shelves feature the most recent Prix Goncourt. The book Impatient, by Cameroonian Djaïli Amadou Amal, was reprinted by Emmanuelle Colas, in France, before winning the Goncourt prize for high school students in 2020. It sells here 68 Tunisian dinars, the equivalent of 30 Canadian dollars, a sum that few Tunisians can afford to spend. By his side, Beautiful abyss, by Tunisian Yamen Manaï, is published by Elyzad, a local publishing house, and sells for 15 dinars ($ 6.79).

Tunisian Faezia Zouari, who won the Five Continents Prize in 2016 for her book My mother’s body, published by Joëlle Losfeld, in France, saw her book for sale in a Tunis bookstore for 80 dinars ($ 36). That’s a lot when you know that a Tunisian earns an average of 7,680 dinars ($ 3,475) per year.

Accessibility to French-speaking literature will therefore have to go through a greater number of local publishers, believe several participants in the States General of Tunis.

A multilingual continent

We must also take into account the multilingualism of Africa, where hundreds of languages ​​rub shoulders with French.

After the independence of Tunisia, Arabic became the official language of the country, explains Faouzi Daldoul, CEO of the francophone bookstore Clairefontaine, which has been established for more than 50 years in the capital. French was taught there for a long time as a second language, but it is increasingly downgraded by English. “People 55 and over like to read in French,” he notes. But I also see a return to French among the youngest. “

This is the case of Yamen Manaï, who says he first learned to read in Arabic, before being seduced by French, a language he deepened by living in Paris and in which he writes. .

Djaïli Amadou Amal, for his part, has Fulani as his mother tongue, one of some 200 languages ​​spoken in Cameroon. “I think in Fulani,” she says, although she feels unable to use it in her writing. “Cameroonians say to themselves that it is the book in French of someone who thinks in Fulani. And francophones are discovering another reality there. “

In this context, French almost becomes a translation tool.

Our journalist was the guest of the Estates General of French-language books around the world.

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