Low literacy rate
From 2013 to 2015, Guinea suffered an Ebola epidemic, which hit trade and tourism and saw the economy slump.
That’s why, Bamba said, he personally got involved in the book capital event. “We want to send out a positive image of Guinea where we have a vibrant youth who are, like any other youth in the world, eager to participate in the development of the country, the continent and the world. This is one of the opportunities we have seized to improve the image that was damaged by the Ebola.”
Non-guineans too are delighted, like Joschka Philipps, a sociologist who has written a book on the youth gangs of Conakry, Ambivalent Rage. “When I heard of Conakry being the World Book Capital, I was extremely excited because Conakry is a place of creativity, resilience and surprise,” he said. “It’s also a place with a lot of poetry.”
But despite its formidable phalanx of novelists and poets, Guinea suffers from a low literacy rate. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa put adult literacy in Guinea in 2012 at 34 percent. In the CIA World Factbook, an annual publication of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, updated in July, only 30.4 percent of the country’s population aged 15 and above can read and write.
“Since independence [from France] in 1958, the education system was weak,” Barry explained. “Currently, the education budget represents only 3.8 percent of the GDP. Besides, there is no literacy policy that makes it mandatory for children to go to school at the right age. Also, schools are often in remote areas, not easily accessible.”
Barry thinks international finance must be mobilized to revamp the education system. If the World Book Capital doesn’t generate funds for that, it will at least create fresh interest in reading among Guineans while foreigners would be interested in reading Guinean authors. “The fact that Guinea is receiving so many writers and researchers is increasing the interest in reading in a country where the level of reading is low,” he said.
Bamba, though he moved to Washington, D.C. in 2008 to work as a software developer and has since then acquired American citizenship, is working with other non-resident Guineans in North America to “build a bridge between our new countries and Guinea to promote Guinea and give back to Guinea.”