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Then, one by one, Nairobi's booksellers cancelled their orders. A panicky HarperCollins sales representative visiting the capital warned me that things were "very tense". Something had spooked them. 

When quizzed by journalists, these men, almost all Kenyan Asians, claimed they were afraid of being sued for libel by those named in the book. The justification made little sense. Yes, Kenyans are famously litigious. Moi's cronies certainly established a precedent of suing not just authors or publishers, but booksellers distributing the offending item. But the Kibaki administration's failure to bring a single individual to court over Anglo Leasing, five years after the scandal broke, surely indicated the last thing the ruling elite wanted was a trial, with all the light it would shed on government's darkest corners. Who, precisely, was going to sue? 

When I asked one shopseller what was going on, his answer was elliptical. "What would you say if I told you that strange men in suits, people who don't even know the book's title, are coming in saying, ‘Are you selling that book?"' He promised to explain in an email; it never arrived. 

"It smacks of an intimidation operation by National Intelligence," a Kenyan journalist told me. "All it takes is a few phone calls and those guys run scared." If he was right, this was censorship by the back door, with Nairobi's booksellers doing the government's job for it. Soon, not a single Kenyan bookshop was selling It's Our Turn to Eat.

Like all those who celebrated Kibaki's inauguration back in 2002, assuming it marked the dawn of a new era, I had misjudged the distance Kenya had travelled. March saw the gunning down in central Nairobi of two human rights activists who had — such irony — denounced extra-judicial killings by the police. Members of civil society, targeted by death threats, went underground. The cowed instincts of the past were making a vigorous return, sorely-won freedoms were being consigned to history.

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jen
July 17th, 2009
9:07 PM
Can only agree to the previous commenter. You have gone viral, as your friend put it, and thats for example how I heard about it. I read it and bought it when it came on Amazon. And I think thats how it goes for most people that have the money for books. We all love real paper. As you say there are "few less enticing prospects than reading an entire book on a flickering screen." Masses reading your book on a screen honors your work, and the moment it was printed most of those that could afford to buy it, did buy it. Saying there will be less books like this, when you are printing more than with any other book so far, is just the wrong perspective.

Yaten512
July 17th, 2009
1:07 PM
>But I can only guess how many copies I would >have sold had it not been for the double whammy >of boycott and piracy. Or how many less copies would have been bought, if the availability of the book across the globe didn't raise it a bit on a scale from obscurity to popularity...

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