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PEN, the writer's body, is due to hold readings in Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi. My private benefactor has thrown his funds into the pot, the Kenyan branch of George Soros's Open Society Institutes is contributing $10,000, and USAID is adding a grant. Three radio stations, including the hugely popular Kiss-FM, will read excerpts over the airwaves and the Nairobi Star newspaper will hand out five books a day, using its network of street vendors to sell another 1,200. 

As a devout atheist and hardened aid sceptic, I'm aware of the acute irony of being thus beholden both to the churches of Kenya and a US development agency. But I'm happy to eat crow. My critics will no doubt mutter darkly about CIA plots, but I wouldn't mind if the Devil himself wanted to distribute It's Our Turn to Eat. I am rather more concerned about the agenda of those who were determined to ensure no Kenyan ever got to read a book on sale across the globe. Galeeb hopes the project will demystify a text whose supposed revelations have now acquired fantastical status, shattering the bookseller boycott for ever. I'm not so sure. But knowing that 5,200 copies of my book — for that is what it will be — have reached the wananchi will allow me to let go. The umbilical cord connecting me to this troublesome third child is finally being cut, not before time. The whole process has been strangely stressful and, to be honest, I've grown rather sick of the thing. 

The convoluted saga has been an eye-opener. I always knew the gap between Kenya's giraffe-and-G&T image and the gritty reality was vast, but now it yawns as wide as the Rift Valley itself. The home of Obama's forefathers, for so long considered the "safe" destination in a traumatised region, is today a very frightened and frightening country. Western development ministers may continue to trumpet the fall of the one-party state and the planting of multiparty democracy in African soil. But the ease with which Nairobi's jittery booksellers were muffled, and the speed with which ordinary Kenyans internalised a new state of repression, show how shallow the roots of democracy are.

As for the fight for intellectual copyright, it is being swiftly lost to the internet's greedy hydra mouths. My book is into its third reprint, and is outselling both my previous two. But I can only guess how many copies I would have sold had it not been for the double whammy of boycott and piracy. An old-fashioned publishing industry lacks the swiftness of response and imagination to keep one step ahead of the relentless pirating. And while rock stars and filmmakers may find ways of weathering the financial assault by a generation which somehow feels entitled to the creative contents of their minds, lowly authors risk being obliterated. In future, expect a lot fewer books like 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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