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Guinea book festival hopes to turn the page on low literacy rate


GUINEA’S national sports stadium buzzed with people seeking a different kind of workout this week, as minds flexed and stretched in pursuit not of muscle gains, but literary enrichment.

The 15th edition of Guinea’s “72 Hours of the Book” festival unfolded in venues across the capital Conakry, bringing together a wide array of writers, publishers, and readers from the West African country and across the continent.

The annual three-day event is aimed at celebrating books and promoting literacy in a nation where over half the population is illiterate, according to World Bank figures, and access to libraries is limited.

“We Guinean authors have mobilized strongly to come together and promote this event,” Conakry-based author Bademba Barry said between bouts of signing copies of his works. “It’s been 15 years of continuously valuing books.”

Despite its low literacy rate, Guinea boasts a rich literary heritage and more than a dozen publishing houses. Most, however, struggle for funds to undertake large production runs. Those that do tend to focus on foreign works.

But Conakry’s arena transformed into a haven this week for readers clamouring to meet their favourite local authors, writers seeking to expand their audiences, and budding creators who took part in workshops.

“Learning things with games… creating stories with things you yourself create in your own imagination – that’s what I like and that’s what makes me come here,” said Kamano, an 11-year-old student who joined a children’s writing class.

“I like it too much!” he said with a smile.

Spread across broad tables, works in French, English, Fulani and a cross-section of local languages drew festivalgoers to local authors like Ousmane El Hadj, who for the last three years has used the festival to reach new readers.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for authors to be seen,” he said. “It’s three days dedicated entirely to books and reading.”

By The African Mirror