L'Afrique que on veut


Thirty-six years after former Motorbooks publisher Tom Warth founded Books for Africa, to ship donated textbooks and library books to school children in Africa, the organization, headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., has become the world’s largest shipper of donated books to the African continent. A fundraiser event held on May 10, which featured Mathilde Mukantabana, the Rwandan ambassador to the U.S., as its keynote speaker, celebrated that success, drawing 350 donors to a country club in suburban St. Paul. By Claire Kirch

Rwanda’s Ambassador to the U.S., Mathilde Mukantabana, addresses a crowd of donors at Books for Africa’s annual fundraiser in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 10.

The event spotlighted the success of BfA and its donors in fulfilling the organization’s mission : the organization has shipped a total of 60 million print books and nearly seven million digital books—along with devices to access them—to all countries on the African continent since its launch in 1988. Still, organizers and speakers acknowledged that, in spite of BfA’s successes, the extreme need for books in Africa remains, and there is yet photo : Claire Kirch
more work to be done.

BfA has historically held successful fundraisers, but this one drew so many supporters of the organization that it had to be divided into a breakfast, for approximately 100 people, followed by a luncheon, for another 250 people. Attendees included representatives of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison ; Bryan Kay, director of editorial and licensing for American Bar Association Publishing in Chicago ; and Adam Lerner, the CEO of Lerner Publishing Group in Minneapolis, among other dignitaries. One woman joined the gathering from Cameroon, in hopes of discussing with BfA how best to ship books to her country. Approximately $170,000 was raised by the organization at Friday’s back-to-back programs.

Books for Africa’s board members and other supporters posed for a group photo after the luncheon concluded on May 10. photo : Claire Kirch

BfA board president Tammie Follett kicked off the proceedings, noting that a shipping container filled with a library of legal books would be directed to the University of Rwanda School of Law in honor of Ambassador Mukantabana. In his own remarks, Patrick Plonski, executive director of BfA since 2003, said that in fiscal year 2023, BfA had shipped more than four million total books to 32 countries, as well as 800,000 digital books loaded onto computers and e-readers. Pointing out that 2023 marked the organization’s “biggest year ever,” Plonski praised the 10,000 volunteers who sort the books in BfA’s Atlanta warehouse, adding : “This is a high volume operation we are running, and I can tell you, the needs are very, very great for more books across Africa.”

In her keynote, Ambassador Mukantabana expressed her appreciation for the work that BfA does, noting the importance of shipping books to an impoverished country devastated by genocide, as was Rwanda in 1994. Emphasizing the importance, and elusiveness, of receiving an education in Rwanda and having access to books, Mukantabana pointed out that, for many in her homeland—which is striving to rebuild after the genocide of 30 years ago—“you can’t buy a book when you are still trying to purchase the food to put on the table. To find a book is something that is almost like finding gold."

Concluding the program, Warth marveled that an organization founded after a trip he took to Uganda in the mid-80s, where he observed libraries lacking in books, has to date shipped 60 million books to that continent. “It’s incredible,” he declared, expressing his wish that BfA would send another 340 million books to Africa within the next 35 years, so that every one of Africa’s 400 million children would have a book.

As for Lerner Publishing Group, one of the organization’s major sponsors, CEO Adam Lerner recalled in a conversation with PW that his father, Lerner founder Harry Lerner, connected with Warth as he was launching BfA. Pronouncing his pride in LPG having been “involved from the beginning,” Lerner added, “it’s a great group of people ; it’s a great organization.”

This year, BfA will ship books to schools, libraries, universities, law schools, bar associations, women’s legal organizations, and other organizations in Africa. Books are shipped from BfA’s own warehouse, as well as partner warehouses in such cities as Hong Kong, Houston, London, Montreal, Paris, and San Francisco, Houston, Montreal, London, Paris,

Auteur: MANZI

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