Africa hosts the youngest of the many BBT branches.
The newly established African branch of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the publishing company that prints and distributes ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s books around the world, hosted the first BBT Africa Conference on April 10 in an effort to connect with ISKCON managers across the continent.
The BBT flew 260 leaders including GBC members, temple presidents, book distributors, and congregational group leaders into Durban, South Africa, for the conference, hosted at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban Westville Campus, in the Graduate School of Business Auditorium.
The venue was no accident; back in October 1975, Srila Prabhupada met the University’s then Vice Chancellor Professor Oliver to discuss the possibility of introducing the Science of Krishna Consciousness in his Department of Hindu Studies.
Srila Prabhupada was also very clear about his desire to spread Krishna Consciousness throughout Africa, and it is this desire which motivated BBT Director Jayadvaita Swami and BBT Africa manager Govardhana Dasa to launch the BBT’s Africa Division and to host this month’s conference.
The assembled leaders convened at 8:00am to register, followed by chanting and a ceremonial offering to the sacred book Srimad-Bhagavatam, before launching into their first session.
After setting the scene with a video clip of Srila Prabhupada speaking about book distribution, the hour continued with video messages from Bhakti Charu Swami and Gopal Krishna Swami, a presentation on the African BBT by Govardhana Dasa, and the keynote speech by Jayadvaita Swami.
The second session of the conference saw Brahma Muhurta Dasa, director of the BBT’s highly successful North European branch, clarify the BBT’s editorial policy and give a much appreciated presentation on book production, printing, and pricing.
During the next session, Nigerian-born Bhakti Vasudeva Swami, a disciple of the late Bhakti-Tirtha Swami, facilitated reports from ISKCON Africa leaders such as South African GBC Bhakti Chaitanya Swami, Head of African Preaching Kadamba Kanana Swami, and Bhakti Narasimha Swami, a devotee of Zulu extraction who currently heads up ISKCON’s outreach in Swaziland, Southern Africa.
The reports continued on into the next two hours—separated by a brief lunch break—with presentations by East Africa secretary Umapati Dasa, West Africa GBC Kavichandra Swami, and Botswana ISKCON leader Rama Govinda Swami, a disciple of Lokanatha Swami. These were all intended to help the BBT understand the different situations in regions across Africa and to plan how to distribute books in each one.
Finally, the BBT had all the GBC members present sign a declaration of agreement on a five-point action plan to be carried out within the next twelve months, which Bhakti Chaitanya then offered to Srila Prabhupada.
“The first was that we would investigate the possibility of acquiring a house for book distributors and a travelling BBT sankirtan van,” explains BBT Africa manager Govardhana Dasa. “Second, because of the size of Africa, communication has not been the best. So we will be putting in place a BBT – ISKCON Relations Committee to enhance the quality of communication.”
The African BBT’s third action step will be to set up a charitable trust in South Africa, where that country’s well-off devotees and Indian community can sponsor books for distribution in Nigeria, Ghana, and other poorer countries.
With ninety per cent of Africa’s initiated ISKCON devotees currently of Indian background, the BBT also plans to introduce a congregational training program to train book distributors on a large scale, in a mission to realize Srila Prabhupada’s desire that the indigenous people of Africa become devotees.
“Our fifth step is to establish a succession plan,” Govardhana says. “Myself and most of the devotees currently working for the BBT here in Africa are Asian. So again, to realize Prabhupada’s dream, we hope to step into the background in the future and allow African devotees to move the BBT forward in their country.”
Although the BBT Africa was established as recently as last year, it is already looking forward to a bright future.
“After the conference, I was flooded by emails from devotees appreciating what the BBT has done,” Govardhana says. “It has broken down barriers that existed for 20 to 30 years, and brought together the African ISKCON world in a way that has never happened before.”