Reading culture in Africa

Posted on January 22, 2016 10:31 am

Africa is reading less and watching more. According to latest literacy study in Sub Saharan Africa, the old habit that used to involve turning the page over with a flick of the finger, not the click of the mouse is slowly dying a natural death. In South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Zambia steady decline in the popularity of the newspaper seems to have leveled off after several years of sliding.However, books aren’t getting any traction in the aforementioned countries. Africa’s 15-year-olds are slipping down the world literacy rankings, apparently because they are reading less but they still rank among the fastest improving in developed countries for science and mathematics.Fewer African students are at the highest levels of reading literacy than in the past as per the data in my possession.The reason for this may be that students are reading less and less inclined to sit down with a good book.Africa’s percentage of readers has gone down from 2004 and 2014 because there are fewer students who can read at a high level, which is lowering the average.The study has also identified that African girls are falling behind boys in literature, losing the strong gains females have made in the past decade.The study shows a significant decline over the previous three years in the literacy performance of African girls compared with boys.

After reading the study, what came to my mind was whether the printed word is finally hitting rock-bottom in Africa, there to remain forever? The debate continues as the media scene evolves. But how are marketers in Africa adapting?Traditionally, in terms of comparison, Africa lags behind the rest of the world in literacy.Continuing its stranglehold on the population, Radio is the most relied on media platform while TV as a medium is watched by just about every African who can access it, just about everyday. Thanks to continuing digital migration, there are channels dedicated to grabbing the attention of Tweens and Teens too, though they are available only on PayTV. Not much is happening within the medium, in terms of emerging genres or changes in viewership habits. In Africa with exception of South Africa, in contrast with mature media markets, TV stations unabashedly charge advertisers like cellular networks a further premium simply because that’s where the money is, apparently. The old purveyor of news, the traditional newspaper, seems to have hit their lowest point. Today, some 20 percent of the population “read a newspaper in the last 14 days” as per recent statistics in Africa. As with television, the primary focus should not be on the absolute number of readers, from an advertiser perspective. Without doubt, newspapers remain a powerful medium for relevant products and services in Africa.

The quality of attention a newspaper receives is hard to beat. Relevance is what the debate really should be about, nothing else.The future of good old fashioned, as well as new literature, will remain worrisome if the book reading habit also continues its downward spiral in Africa. The continent’s marketers may not worry about it today, but sociologists may well tell them to worry about the toll tomorrow. The risk of becoming more clever yet more shallow at the same time, remains. If even the privileged few become less aware of all that the world has to offer, imagine the quality of leadership that awaits society at large.The millions of Africans who continue to make Twitter and Facebook an ever growing society are influencing change, not only in their worlds but for marketers and media owners as well. The march of the mobile handset and the convergence of technologies are only a question of when, not if. But a reality check of the here and now is well advised. Those numbers don’t lie. These observations are based on research.The cornerstone of Africa’s development politically, socially and economically depends on literacy levels. Time has come to demystify widely accepted notion that Africans do not read books. As much the continent of more than one billion people lack a book-reading culture, there’s failure in culture of engagement about the reasons why a populace that reads books is important.Continuing the habit of reading helps in dealing with the ever increasing complex world, and understand issues to grapple with, open lines of communication, particularly if parents, teachers, librarians provide opportunities to discuss reading, share and see how others have found solutions to problems,develop vocabulary, broaden imaginations, improve writing, deal with the increasing demands of school work and gain confidence when speaking.

Contador Harrison