Interview with Jules Ouoba, publisher in conflicted CÔte d’Ivoire
For four days last year, Jules Ouoba and his family hunkered down in their home in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, as political violence raged in the surrounding neighborhood.
As chief executive of Centre de Publications Evangéliques (CPE), Jules leads the largest Christian publishing house in French-speaking Africa. Here he tells how the turmoil and uncertainty have heightened CPE's awareness of the books readers want and need most.
Q: How has the war impacted CPE?
Our administration building was partially destroyed by shells during two different armed confrontations, most recently in April 2011. Some of our foreign employees had to leave the country. We considered moving CPE to another country, but a lack of financial means prevented us from doing so.
Q: Could you give us a synopsis of the civil war in your country?
Côte d’Ivoire has been experiencing a latent crisis since the early 1990’s. In 2002, civil war broke out, and since then, southerners have been pitted against northerners; Muslims against Christians. This situation has affected the country’s economy by seriously weakening businesses; some businesses have not survived the crisis.
We knew that we would have to fight to continue publishing and distributing Christian literature in Africa. Thus, we revised our strategies of production and distribution under the guidance of the Lord.
Q: How has the war changed what you publish?
We realized the urgency to refocus our book topics on people’s concerns , such as social conflicts, tribalism and its consequences, poverty, the search for peace, interethnic reconciliation and so on. The books have been welcomed favorably by readers in Côte d’Ivoire and throughout Francophone Africa.
Q: How did the war alter your distribution methods?
We had to take enormous risks by decentralizing CPE. First, we initiated itinerant distribution by minibus traveling across Côte d’Ivoire. Once a month, two of my co-workers stock our mobile bookshop and bring books to cities and villages. At the international level, we have built an excellent distribution network throughout the continent. Now, we have representatives in 15 African countries who have helped us to bring books closer to readers. All of this is stimulated by advertisingon local radio stations.