“ilissAfrica Mobile” – new touch-optimized website for smartphones

ilissAfrica MobileJust head to m.ilissafrica.de on your mobile browser to get ilissAfrica’s cross search on the go – whatever device you’re using and wherever you are.

The “internet library sub-saharan Africa” (ilissAfrica) integrates relevant conventional and digital information resources on the sub-Saharan Africa region scattered on websites, databases or library catalogues in order to facilitate research. ilissAfrica allows a cross search in catalogues of research libraries like e.g. UB Frankfurt, GIGA Hamburg, IFEAS Mainz, ASC Leiden and NAI Uppsala, and in Africa-sections of the databases “World Affairs Online”, “Online Contents”, “Bielefeld Academic Search Engine” and the colonial picture archive as well as in a database on internet resources with more than 4.800 websites on sub-Saharan Africa.

With m.ilissafrica.de we hope to increase the usability and accessibility of ilissAfrica in African countries with low internet bandwidth but with splendidly constructed mobile cellphone networks,  e.g. up to 50% of Nigerians access the web via mobile devices for instance.

Instead of writing unique apps for each mobile device or OS, the mobile website uses partly the jQuery mobile framework to design a website consistent across different browsers. It was especially difficult to adapt the complex federated search (noYaMS) to a small display with touch-navigation.

Mobile “Search”

Home-Screenshot_2013-04-25-11-44-47 .  Gacaca Screenshot_2013-04-25-12-11-40

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Africa in the study by Octavio Kulesz on “Digital publishing in developing countries” (2011)

At 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair in a discussion “Digital publishing in the South” organized by the Buenos Aires International Book Fair, Fundación El Libro and the Frankfurt Book Fair a new study for the International Alliance of Independent Publishers by Octavio Kulesz was presented (13.10.2011, 5.1 A 962, Forum Dialog). The research was done in October 2010, the study was publishedin February 2011.

Here is my personal summary of pp. 40-56 covering sub-Saharan Africa:

  • Kulesz is very critical on projects like Worldreader or One Laptop Per Child because they do not take into account the particular conditions of the local context. Among others they do not offer content in local languages and a business model designed for local creators is missing (pp.43-45).
  • The POD option is discussed with two examples of South Africa: Paperight (Electric Book Works) is a platform that promises to transform any computer with a printer and internet connection – e.g. in the local photocopying centre – into an on-demand store. Another independent South African publisher, Jacana Media, thinks about the Espresso Book Machine, to allow them to reduce distribution costs and replace the prevailing business model (p. 46).
    In the Book Fair discussion Bridget Impey from Jacana was present and elaborated on this idea – she also reported of the big companies of the North trying to get the African content, but she stresses that the delay in digital publishing in Africa has the advantage of having the possibility to think very carefully about how and to whom the content should be given.
  • The study introduces the leading online stores in Afric like Kalahari or Exclus1ve Books (p.47).
  • AJOL and Human Sciences Research Council Press (HSRC) are presented as noteworthy cases under the headline “digital repositories” (p.48,49).
  • Finally, another actor “that is perhaps the real protagonist of future electronic publishing in Africa: the mobile phone” is tackled (together with M-Pesa). The study then describes activities to use the existing cellular network to distribute works of fiction. (p.49-52).
  • Let us see if print on demand will represent a key step forward in the future (p. 53).
  • One of the mentioned problems is the conversion of backlists to digital format, which meens a hugh investment (p.54).
  • Concerning expensive software – like Adobes InDesign – open source solutions might offer a way, however: “It must be stated that only two of the publishers interviewed from sub-Saharan Africa declared themselves familiar with open source solutions.” (p. 55)

The result of the study in short:

“Based on the cases studied we can outline a number of
future trends:
1.    The mobile phone network will continue to be fertile terrain for new
experiments in book publishing or promotion, given that Internet
penetration will certainly take many years to reach the levels of other
regions; in the field of cell phones we will probably witness the exploration
of business models that do not even exist in the US or Europe.
2.    Print on demand will have a greater presence.
3.    The training of traditional publishers will be a decisive factor that
might accelerate change. The key will lie in the ability of African professionals
to exploit the potential of digital technology without falling
into formulas for “implanting” technologies inconsistent with the local
reality which – like a deus ex machina –, not only do not help but
may be a considerable waste of time and resources.” (p.56)

Another recommendation on the subject is the blog post “Les téléphones mobiles et l’édition au Burkina Faso – Entretien avec Jean-Claude Naba Par Octavio Kulesz” , 04 October 2011.

On Display: Translations as examples of German-African cultural cooperation to preserve the cultural heritage of the Ewe people in present-day Togo and Ghana

Recently a new translation of Jakob Spieth’s book on the Ewe people was published:

  • Jakob Spieth: The Ewe people : a study of the Ewe people in German Togo. – Accra : Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2011.

Already in 2009 a French translation appeared:

  • Jakob Spieth: Les communautés ewe. – Lomé : Presses de l’UL, 2009

The stories behind these two translations give examples for the successful collaboration of a multitude of dedicated persons and institutional stakeholders. Academics, publishers, diplomats, librarians and representatives of cultural institutes joined efforts, time and money to make an important historical source available to the local people.

For more than twenty years the German missionary Jakob Spieth (1856-1914) lived in Ho, located in former German colony of Togo, now part of the modern Ghana. In his magnum opus called “Die Ewe-Stämme: Material zur Kunde des Ewe-Volkes in Deutsch-Togo“ published in 1906 by Reimer in Berlin he gives a detailed account of the history, the social, cultural and economic life of the Ewe. He also translated the bible into the language of the Ewe people.

The English translation of 2011 was edited by Komla Amoaku of the Institute for Music and Development, Ho, Ghana. The translation work was made by Marcellinus Edorh, Emmanuel Tsaku, Raphael Avornyo and Mary Esther Kropp Dakubu. The German Goethe Institut in Accra, Ghana, provided organisational support and contacts to Germany’s Federal Foreign Office which contributed a substantial amount of money. Already in 2007 Akoss Ofori Mensah from the Sub-Saharan Publishers, Legon, became involved. We got in contact at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2007. In the colonial special collection two copies of the original German publication of 1906 are available. Given its age and rarity an international interlibrary loan was not possible. However, I could find the kind support of the colleagues at the Bavarian State Library. They quickly digitized the roughly 1000 pages by Spieth and put the high quality scans on the web for free and worldwide usage of the German original document. Then the Goethe Institut in Ghana printed this version as the physical base for the translation team.

The French translation was done at the “Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Germon-Togolaises” (CERGETO) at the Département d’Allemand, Université de Lomé, by Séna Akakpo-Numado, Dotsé Yigbe, Kokou Azamede and Komi Kossi-Titrikou under the direction of the professors Nicoué Gayibor and Amétépé Yaovi Ahadji. The German embassy at Lomé supported the work and the publication financially to support the preservation of the Ewe culture in Togo, but also to make this source available to the francophone public worldwide. Frankfurt University Library could support the work of Kokou Azamede in 2009. For further information on the Ewe see our “internet library sub-saharan Africa” (ilissAfrica).

The laborious translations into English, French and contemporary Ewe might create a revival of interest amongst researchers, contribute to the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Ewe people and become reading material in schools and universities.

Dr. Hartmut Bergenthum, head of the Africa department, Frankfurt University Library

On Display: China’s presence in Africa – From Zheng He to Hu Jintao

According to the Chinese calendar, the Year of the Hare begins on February, 2, 2011. The characteristics of the hare go well together with the topic “China in Africa”: perseverance, restraint and efficiency describe well China’s engagement on the African continent for quite some time. President Hu Jintao has visited 20 African countries, the Chinese government and (private) entrepreneurs concluded hundreds of contracts, credits worth billions were granted. Nearly a million Chinese live in Africa.

This intensive connection between China and Africa is anything but new: As early as during the Ming dynasty, therefore prior to the Europeans, Eunuch-Admiral Zheng He (also called Cheng Ho, 1371 – 1433?) was sent west with a huge fleet of 63 ships and 28.560 men and he sailed several times along the eastern coast of Africa (from present day Kenya to Mozambique). On board were translators, physicians, pharmacists and explosives. Besides lucrative state trading he brought back home African and Arabic diplomats who returned to Africa two years later on the next journey (video intro).

In a nutshell, China’s engagement in Africa can be described as visible, inexpensive and quick. According to experts it is a combination of “aid” and “business” – African commodities in exchange for Chinese support of industry and infrastructure. Heavy criticism in the western world often lables this arrangement as neocolonialism. Naturally, Africans have a much calmer view. After all, the Chinese-African cooperation has the favourable effect of an extraordinary economic growth of 6% – the highest since the 60s (compare the paper by Helmut Asche).

For more recent books and articles on the subject China in Africa see the results of ilissAfrica.

In recent years also other Asian countries like India and Japan became of interest for African Studies scholars and led to some important publications.

Anne-Marie Kasper, Africa-Department, Frankfurt University Library

“Integrated Information Services in Germany & Europe”, Report in Africa Spectrum 2/2010

Bergenthum, Hartmut / Thomas Siebold (2010), African Studies – Striving for Integrated Information Services: Recent Developments in Germany and Europe, in: Africa Spectrum 45, 2, pp. 109-121.
Retrieved December 22, 2010, from http://hup.sub.uni-hamburg.de/giga/afsp/article/view/331/331
URN: urn:nbn:de:gbv:18-4-3317

This report gives an account of the subject gateway ilissAfrica and some digitisation projects (Frobenius Institute, DEVA). It discusses recent European cooperation ventures in the field of librarianship (ELIAS). Finally, the report charts the new developments (e.g. interlibrary loan on e-journals) and services (e.g. Netvibes dashboard, Wiki) in connection with Frankfurt University Library’s special collection “Africa South of the Sahara”, which is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). They try to address the changing needs of researchers and to handle information overload, while keeping up with the latest developments.


Compare some further publications on ilissAfrica and on the Frankfurt Special Collection:

  • Cohen, Nadia / Thomas Siebold (2009), Recherchieren im digitalen Zeitalter. Virtuelle Fachbibliothek ilissAfrica, in: Periplus. Jahrbuch für außereuropäische Geschichte, 19, 148-151.
  • Bergenthum, Hartmut (2008), „Ozeanien“ und „Afrika südlich der Sahara“. Zwei Sammlungen in der Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main mit bundesweitem Versorgungsauftrag, in: Jahrbuch für europäische Überseegeschichte, 8, 239-252.
  • Bergenthum, Hartmut (2007), Country Presentation Germany, Inaugural Meeting of ELIAS, Leiden, 2007, in: African Research & Documentation, 105, 39-43.
  • Bergenthum, Hartmut (2006), Neues vom Sondersammelgebiet „Afrika südlich der Sahara“, in: Afrika Spectrum, 41, 2, 303-304. (JSTOR Stable URL)
  • Wolcke-Renk, Irmtraud Dietlinde (2004), Afrika südlich der Sahara (SSG 6,31) : aus der Afrika-Abteilung der Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt am Main : Klostermann.