Celebrating books, promoting reading: Accra is 23rd UNESCO Book Capital

BY: Severious Kale-Dery
World Book Capital will encourage reading and boost the book industry
World Book Capital will encourage reading and boost the book industry

On April 23, 2022, Accra began a year-long journey of activities to etch its name on the map of the UNESCO as the 23rd World Book Capital.

The World Book Capital (WBC) was introduced by the UNESCO to acknowledge cities for promoting books and fostering reading for a year starting on April 23, which is the World Book and Copyright Day.

Cities designated as UNESCO World Book Capital come out with activities to encourage a culture of reading in all ages and sharing UNESCO’s values.


With Accra winning the title for 2023, through the year-long activities, Ghana stands to benefit because the UNESCO Book Capital will help create an avenue to unearth and develop creativity.

Since the activities of the event will span a year, it is expected to bring together all stakeholders in the book industry as part of projecting books and the importance of books and reading.

The event is, therefore, an opportunity for authors to be motivated to produce good manuscripts for publication. Players in the local book industry, such as authors, publishers, designers and illustrators, printers, book sellers and distributors, will be projected globally.

It is also an opportunity for a robust increase in patronage and sale of books and so, winning the title will also uplift the local book industry, Accra, as well as the country at large.


Every year, the official website of the UNESCO publishes an Open Call for Applications from cities all over the world. The Open Call for Applications for 2024 was published in February 2022.

The nomination does not include any financial prize; it acknowledges the best programmes dedicated to books and reading.

The Director-General of the UNESCO of the day, is responsible for the designation of the cities following both internal and external consultations with the other members of an Advisory Committee.

The committee, which meets yearly, is made up of one representative of the International Authors Forum (IAF), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the International Publishers Association (IPA) and one UNESCO representative.

To ensure a balanced representation of all regions of the world, the Advisory Committee does not consider consecutive nominations of cities from the same region.

Also, the committee will only consider an application for a city in a country where another city has been a UNESCO World Book Capital after a period of 10 years or more, since the previous host city’s nomination.


To be considered, the mayor of the city making the application must endorse the programme presented by the city to the nominating committee for consideration.

The programmes run from one World Book and Copyright Day to the next.

The applicants' programme proposals are normally evaluated using six criteria:

The submission of an activity programme specifically conceived for the World Book Capital and implemented during the city's term as Capital with long-term benefits for partners and society at large; a general outline of expenses foreseen and fund-raising strategies; and the degree of municipal, regional, national and international involvement, including professional and non-governmental organisations, and the foreseeable impact of the programmes;

Additionally, the quantity and quality of one-time or ongoing activities organised by the applicant city in collaboration with national, regional and international professional organisations representing writers, publishers, booksellers and librarians respecting the various players in the book supply chain and in the scientific and literary community;

Also, the quantity and quality of any other noteworthy projects promoting and fostering books and reading; and the conformity with the principles of freedom of expression, freedom to publish and to distribute information, as stated in the UNESCO Constitution, as well as Articles 19 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by the Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials (Florence Agreement), as well as conformity with the UN Charter and relevant UN resolutions.

Former capitals

The first UNESCO World Book Capital designated was Madrid (Spain) in 2001.

An agreement was concluded among the partners that, after Madrid, the subsequent capitals would be Alexandria in 2002 and New Delhi in 2003.

Other previous winners are Antwerp (Belgium) for 2004; Montreal (Canada) for 2005; Turin (Italy) for 2006; Bogota (Colombia) for 2007; Amsterdam (The Netherlands) for 2008; Beirut (Lebanon) for 2009; Ljubljana (Slovenia) for 2010; Buenos Aires (Argentina) for 2011; Yerevan (Armenia) for 2012; and Bangkok (Thailand) for 2013.

The rest are Port Harcourt (Nigeria) in 2014; Incheon (Republic of Korea) in 2015; Wroclaw (Poland) in 2016; Conakry (Republic of Guinea) in 2017; Athens (Greece) in 2018; Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) in 2019; Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) in 2020; Tbilisi (Georgia) in 2021 and Guadalajara (Mexico) in 2022.

Accra thus becomes the third city in Africa to have been nominated for the enviable position as the UNESCO World Book Capital after Port Harcourt and Conakry.