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The Printing Profession In Sierra Leone
From the surf beaches of the south-west, the Republic of Sierra Leone rises in a flight of irregular steps to the broad plateau of the ill-defined Atlantic/Niger watershed at the north-eastern frontier.
She is found between the Republic of Guinea to the North, the Republic of Liberia to the East and Atlantic Ocean to the West with an area of 71,740 square kilometers and a population of 4.9 million, much of which is urban based.
Printing is the art of reproducing originals which could be text, drawings or pictures, either black and white or coloured, by varied printing methods, innumerable times. The method of production could either be Relief (raised surface), Planography (flat surface) or Gravure (recessed surface). During either process ink of any color is transferred onto a wide variety of printing stock such as paper, bottles, plastic and paper commonly known as ‘substrate (Mind,1986).
Printing has had its origins for years (dated back around 768-770 form Japan) but modern printing could be traced to the 15thcentury following the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg. In Sierra Leone, printing began following the foundation of the colony but the press was burnt down when the French attacked the colony in 1794. In 1796 another printing press was set up. At the initial stages of the industry, the printing press was faced with many problems among which was that of housing as it had no building. Hence it was first located at Water Street, presently Wallace Johnson Street, then relocated to Fort Thornton where the present State House is and eventually to the Secretariat building. Again for want of suitable site it was moved to George Street where it was named Government Printing’. About 1808 it became an independent unit whereby typesetting was done by hand composition using foundry types with printing machines operated manually by foot (Davies,1997). The industry began developing into full gear when on the 26th October, 1927 it was electrified and power driven mechanical composition and letterpress printing machines were installed. During this period the Department was operated under the Colonial Secretary’s Office but after a series of administrative adjustments it was transferred to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under which it operates to date. E.A.F. Brandon was appointed as its first indigenous head in 1950(Davies,1997).
Albeit the industry has had a very slow growth since its inception and until recently the industry was purely a government concern. However since the 1940s private individuals began investing in the industry by running printing houses engaged in general jobbing and newspaper production. Notable were Humble Noble Printing, the Guardian Press and Bangmolo Press, the Bunumbu Press, Oduntor Press, New Era printing, the Commercial Printing Company, the Daily Mail and Atlantic Printers began. The operations of some of these presses was short-lived due to financial constraints. Notwithstanding the Government Printing Department continued to grow steadily with improved modern technology. In addition to the printing of government publications, the industry began printing textbooks, exercise books notebooks and other commercial jobs for increase revenue, thus reducing the country’s dependence on imported printed matter.
The spread of Printing in Sierra Leone took a different form; there is the Government Printing Department, owned and funded by the government; the private sector, owned and funded by individuals; and In-plant printing units owned by organizations purely for their own printing requirements such as the Bank of Sierra Leone, the Bunumbu Press and that at Njala University College. Fourah Bay College has a Bindery. Presently the private sector has outgrown the Government Printing Department though the latter is the largest single printing press, employing the largest number of staff. There are nearly thirty (30) privately owned presses the largest number being concentrated in Freetown. In order to bring some improvement in the profession, printers got together to form the Sierra Leone Association of Printers on the 27th November 1992,with the late Mr Lissa O. Duramany as first President. In pursuits of their aims the National Institute of Printing and Technology was established for the training of printers
PROBLEMS FACING THE INDUSTRY
Huge Capital Outlay
Printing presses are under-funded. Printing is highly technological and mechanic and needs money. The cost of machines and equipment is high and requires enough foreign exchange. This has left many willing and highly professional printers handicapped in establishing printing presses.
The profession is one that is least protected either from the legislative point of view or from the printers themselves. There are many back street and portfolio printers in Sierra Leone today who in most cases enjoy the viability of the Printing Industry more than the professional printers who work for the course. The resultant effect is that there is no plough-back into the industry. The introduction of the Indigenous Trade Protection Act of 1969 has done very little to protect the industry from infiltration by foreigners, who have more financial power, and can easily gain access to bank loans than the citizens.
Spare Parts and Materials
One major problem facing the industry is the unavailability of spare parts and materials. There is no graphic art firm for selling spare parts and materials. This means that the replacement of spares and even materials take a very long time as they have to be imported. Complementing this problem is that of sustainability due to lack of maintenance of machines and experienced staff to undertake the task. What is more there are hardly facilities for further training to improve the lot of printers.
Over the years, the government had introduced measures that have almost crippled the industry such as the high import duties, sales tax, surtax on turnover and bank commission on acquisition of foreign exchange. These have left importers with no alternative but to reduce, or even stop importing. As a result, many printers now rely on petty traders who invade these regulations but at a high cost. Over and above there is frequent shortage of power supply from the National Power Authority which deters the completion of jobs. What is more the profession is characterised by lack of coordination and cooperation among printers; lack of interest in the promotion of the trade; lack of competition as the awareness of what a “good printing job is”. This has led to greed and selfishness, thus opening the door to exploitation by ‘portfolio printers’ non-printers and foreigners.
Some Remedial Measures
In order to improve the printing industry, the following are worthy of note:
o The establishment of a National Printing Institute where people from in and outside the profession could have access to training facilities. Printers should pull their resources in support of this Institute .
o A graphic arts shop should be established where printing materials and spare materials could be availed.
o Ready finance and foreign exchange should be available for the purchase of spare parts and materials.
o There should be cooperation amongst printers to strengthen the Printers’ Association.
o Printers should ensure constant power supply with the provision of power plants to complement the services of the National Power Authority. Only through the implementation of the aforementioned could the industry be revived and sustained for posterity.
Printing is one of the most important means of mass communication alongside radio, motion pictures and television. In many countries especially developed ones, printing is a big business in terms of annual sales and the number of establishments. In Sierra Leone, however, the printing industry is a relatively small business. The most common materials the industry is engaged in are books, magazines, newspapers, calendars, souvenirs, post cards ruled writing tablets and reproduction of art works. Invariably this article looks at the origins of the industry in Sierra Leone, the different types of industries that have been established over the years and the problems faced by the industry,.
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