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On the websites and in email exchanges, I was stunned to see Kenyans worrying aloud about being spotted reading my book. When I suggested to a businesswoman friend she order a consignment of books direct from my publisher, she told me there was no point, it would only be confiscated at the post office. "I am aghast at the return of fear in our bookshops," declared Philo Ikonya, head of PEN's Kenya chapter. All this, for a book that had never been officially banned.

What I had not misjudged, however, was the impossibility, in the 21st century, of trying to dam the flow of information. While negotiating serialisation, I had sent a PDF of the manuscript to two Kenyan newspapers. It's a sign of my advancing years that it never occurred to me that I was taking a stupid risk. Like most of my generation, I could think of few less enticing prospects than reading an entire book on a flickering screen.

Not so Kenya's young, cybernet-savvy population. I began receiving Facebook messages from members of the Kenyan diaspora. A "massive file", a bootleg copy of my PDF almost certainly stolen in some busy newsroom, was circulating. "You've gone viral!" warned a Kenyan activist based in South Africa. She had been separately sent three copies of the stolen PDF that day. To prove her point, she emailed me a copy of my own book. 

At first, I tried adopting a posture of Zen-like equanimity. If plagiarism is a compliment, mass piracy is surely the ultimate accolade. There was part of me that gloried in this cheeky demonstration of People Power. I was clearly going to make not a penny in royalties on the Kenyan market, but if this must be my contribution to Kenya's oft-promised, much-touted political Second Liberation, then so be it. 

"You're not losing any actual sales. The people who are stealing the PDF wouldn't be able to afford to buy it anyway," a Nairobi friend assured me. I conjured up a pleasing mental image of slum-dwelling students and unemployed workers — the great wananchi (ordinary folk) Kenyan presidents routinely address in their speeches — poring over samizdat versions of It's Our Turn to Eat

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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.

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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