Reading Africa at the 51st Cairo International Book Fair

With the slogan “Egypt, Africa, Cultural diversity”, the black continent is at the core of many events and activities at the 51st Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF, 22 January-5 February).

One year after Egypt was chosen to lead the African Union for 10 months, Senegal was selected as the guest of honor with a programme that includes plenty of activities in addition to Senegalese publications in Arabic and in French.

Major Senegalese intellectuals and cultural figures have been invited to participate including minister of culture Abdoulaye Diop, who made a short visit to Cairo during the opening on which he met with the Egyptian minister of culture Enas Abdel Dayem and other high ranking cultural figures. He described choosing Senegal as a guest of honor as a “great choice that reflects the depth of Egyptian-Senegalese relations on the cultural, diplomatic, political, and religious level”.

Diop also mentioned that the plan was to reflect the diversity of the Senegalese arts and culture in a range of publications in French and Arabic. “The Senegalese programme in the Cairo Book Fair aims to exploring and reflect the similarities between the two countries’ cultures.”

During his meeting with Abdel Dayem, Diop talked about an initiative to establish an Egyptian cultural centre in Senegal where Egyptian researchers would be welcome to study on the Senegalese art and culture. He also mentioned a cultural exchange where Senegalese researchers and expertise would visit Egypt to explore its ancient civilisation. Both parties agreed on choosing Egypt as the guest of honor at the 2021 Dakar International Book Fair.

The Senegalese pavilion in the Book Fair has a variety of fiction and nonfiction books by the most prominent Senegalese writers including the acclaimed Senegalese poet and Sufi thinker Ibrahim Niass (1900–1975) and the novelist Aboubacar Ndiaye.

Prominent Senegalese figures are also celebrated in this year’s book fair including the late Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986) who was chosen as the African Idol for all African countries. Diop was a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist and politician who studied the human race’s origins and pre-colonial African culture. Egyptology was among his areas of interest and he was one of the earliest African scholars to spread interest in ancient Egypt to a wider African context.

The CIBF is also celebrating Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001), the Senegalese poet, politician, and cultural theorist who, for two decades, served as the first president of Senegal. A seminar was organised to explore Senghor’s life and achievements, attended by Egyptian and Senegalese writers. The seminar also explored his influence on the idea of an African identity based on understanding the others’ cultures. Senghor was popular in post-colonial Africa, favoring the maintenance of close ties with France and the western world. The participants also reflected on Senghor as one of the prominent poets of the continent. His poetry was widely acclaimed as in 1978 he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca, among many other honours he received. He is regarded by many as one of the most important African intellectuals of the 20th century.

Among the participants in the seminar is the Senegalese writer, poet and civil servant Hamidou Sall.

The Senegalese programme also includes other seminars: “A look at Senegalese Literature in Arabic”, “Senegalese Literature in French: the Legacy and Directions”, and “Senegalese Literature in the Local Languages”.

Celebrating cultural diversity on the African continent, a new prize was initiated this year for the best book about Africa which went to the prominent professor and writer Dr Awatef Abdel Rahman for her book Journalism and the African Media.

Several seminars and activities were also organised to discuss the horizons of African-Egyptian dialogue: “Arab African Cultural Diplomacy”, “African Culture: Reality and Expectations”, “The Reality and Challenges of African Unity”, “Women and Youth in Africa: A Pioneering History”, “Investment and Development in Africa: Future Visions”, “International Cooperation and Democracy Constants”, “African Literature: Linguistic Diversity and Identity Constants”, “Cultural Resources and Diverse Civilisation”, “Natural Resources and the Horizons of Development and Industry”, “African Security: the Imperative of Cooperation and Reconstruction Strategies”, “Climate, Energy and Future Challenges”, and “Integration Policies: the Africa that We Want”.

A series of seminars entitled “Africa in a Book” was organised for the first time to discuss books on different topics in Africa by writers from all over the world.

Among the African cultural figures invited to this year’s CIBF is Ndileka Mandela, the granddaughter of the prominent African Leader Nelson Mandela. Ndileka, a social activist and former nurse, and the head of the Thembekile Mandela Foundation in South Africa, was the guest of an open discussion with the audience.

12 African ambassadors in Egypt are invited to participate in a daily event organised in the Youth of Africa Hall where youth initiatives are to be announced in an open discussion with the audience.

The 51st Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) at its new venue, New Cairo’s Egypt’s International Exhibitions Centre (EIEC), runs has a record number of 900 publishers representing 38 countries, and 41 vendors of used books, housed in 808 wings. This year’s Person of the Fair is the renowned Egyptian geographer Gamal Hemdan (1928-1993).
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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