Laure Blédou: looking back at the children's literature workshops in Rwanda with the 'Ressources éducatives' project

From Dakar to Bamako via Bujumbura, new players in children's publishing are emerging who promote stories anchored in African reality, it's exciting!

Laure Blédou is Editorial Director at Bayard Afrique in Côte d'Ivoire and editor-in-chief of Planète J'aime Lire, a children's magazine designed and printed in Africa. As part of the Rencontres Internationales du Livre Francophone (RILF) in Kigali, she led professional workshops for Rwandan and Burundian publishers invited with the support of the Ressources éducatives - Lire pour apprendre project. This project, financed by the AFD, aims to support the production and dissemination of children's educational literature in 15 sub-Saharan African countries. 

Updated on 24/04/2023

5 min

Laure Blédou
© Inspire Afrika

Can you tell us about the objectives and contents of the professional workshops you led at the Rencontres Internationales du Livre Francophone (RILF)?

When we started developing this session of professional workshops with the Institut français of Rwanda, I was able to refine the objectives: to enable participants to develop their professional skills, their knowledge of the sector across Africa and worldwide and... to boost their business! This last point was crucial for me. I remember saying at the launch meeting that we were going to talk about money, not just literature. Furthermore, I wanted to start with the needs of professionals. To do this, I set up a targeted participation questionnaire, knowing, for example, that talking about planning and diversification would already raise some good questions.

This is how we arrived at 3 half-days with 3 themes:

  • Being a unique and central publisher/bookshop, around brand identity and creating alliances;
  • The development of the author and illustrator relationship, both for sourcing and support, but also for promoting the catalogue
  • And a focus on value creation, including how to organise a publishing house in agile mode.

All the themes were fascinating and provoked debates but I have to admit that the idea of the publisher as a start-up was revolutionary for some! 


During these workshops you spoke with Rwandan and Burundian publishers. What did you learn from the challenges expressed?

There are many challenges and the publishers impressed me with their tenacity! If I had to mention three challenges, I would choose these:

  • Economic, particularly due to the cost of producing books in relation to the low purchasing power of readers.
  • Organisational too. Many publishers come into the business out of passion. They may be familiar with the country's publishing environment but they also need to strengthen their skills in project management or even accounting, for example.
  • Linguistics. In many countries on the continent, the question of publication languages in order to reach the greatest number of people arises. I have experienced this in Mali with Bambara in particular, in South Africa where I have ties, and I can also see it in Senegal. In Rwanda, publishers are caught between French, English and Kinyarwanda. Do you publish the same title in three languages? Or a bilingual edition? Or alternate...? There are crucial decisions to be made. 
I believe in the future of the book, even if the object and its mediation also need to be reinvented, particularly with audio, publications making room for the visual, etc.

What is your assessment of the current state of publishing in Sub-Saharan Africa, and more broadly of the distribution of children's literature in the region? 

Last February I was at the 15th launch of the publishing season in Mali, which this year included a meeting of publishing professionals with a half-day session dedicated to children's publishers. The sector is flourishing! From Dakar to Bamako, via Bujumbura, new players are emerging to promote the country's stories or works that are firmly rooted in the national identity, which is exciting! But there are still major areas for improvement: sometimes the strong desire to raise awareness or pass on messages makes the narration awkward. And then there is the question of the stories that children's publishers choose to publish in order to obtain funding from donors or for inclusion in school programmes. This biases the themes addressed, and a certain miserabilism lingers in the stories we offer to our children, and I say this as a mother who buys children's books. As far as distributing children's literature is concerned, the challenges are quite similar to those found with general fiction. It is sometimes easier to find a book published in Benin in Paris than in Abidjan... Although there are always some bookshops that allow you to place orders. And digital formats can help: audio versions are interesting avenues for publishers and parents!


To what extent do you think the Ressources éducatives project opens up prospects in this area?

As soon as I heard about the project, I was very interested in the 'Lire pour apprendre' component, which focuses on children's literature for learning development, particularly when produced on the continent. As the award winning Ivorian author Armand Gauz wrote: "Children become the adults in the stories we read to them."

And support for capacity building among stakeholders in the publishing chain is crucial. We are already thinking about the follow-up to the workshops in Rwanda and their application in other countries.


What is your vision of the publishing chain in sub-Saharan Africa in 10 years?

I will say straight away that I believe in the future of the book, even if the object and its mediation also need to be reinvented, particularly with audio, publications making room for the visual, etc. As far as children's books are concerned, I see the chain developing. As for readership, the expanding middle classes in most sub-Saharan African countries mean there are greater numbers of educated parents who believe in the value of reading for their children and invest in books for their household, even small sums. On the publishing side, there is a wider range of books on offer and more and more competent operators. I mentioned audio books above. There is also the podcast story format, which for me represents real potential for development. I talk every day about the benefits of listening. And I fight to be heard!

The Institut français and the 'Ressources éducatives' project

The 'Ressources éducatives' project, initiated and financed by the French Development Agency (AFD) and implemented by UNESCO and the Institut français, aims to increase access to a range of quality educational resources for primary and secondary school students in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa. 

L'institut français, LAB