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Michela Wrong with John Githongo, Kenya's whistleblower, in London 

Long before their official launch, most books detach themselves from their authors. An editor calls to say the text has gone to the printers and no further changes are possible. You feel a pang of regret, tinged with relief. Like any anxious parent, you will do what you can to ease your creation's passage through a hostile world, granting interviews, giving the odd speech, but essentially it must now fend for itself. Your attention shifts to the next project.

That was certainly how it went with my first two. But my latest has broken with the pattern. Four-and-a-half months after publication, I am still as involved with It's Our Turn to Eat as when I was drafting it, fighting for its right to exist in its natural marketplace. My struggle to deliver this awkward offspring has taught me a great deal about an African nation I thought I already knew. It has also highlighted the hurdles facing the publishing industry in the internet age. None of these lessons is particularly reassuring. 

It's Our Turn to Eat is the story of John Githongo, who was appointed anti-corruption chief after President Mwai Kibaki swept to power in 2002, vowing to eliminate the sleaze that had become a feature of predecessor Daniel arap Moi's regime. Githongo, an old friend, stumbled across a brand new government scandal, dubbed "Anglo Leasing". On probing, he realised his closest ministerial colleagues were involved. They expected him to turn a blind eye for one simple reason: he hailed from the same ethnic community as the "Mount Kenya Mafia", as Kibaki's coterie was known. Instead, he fled Kenya, taking with him hundreds of hours of secretly taped conversations, and eventually went public with what he knew.

I always knew the story would cause a stir. But I thought the reaction would quickly blow over. The Anglo Leasing scandal, after all, had been amply covered in both the Kenyan and international press when it first surfaced back in 2004. Since late 2005, a leaked dossier drafted by Githongo and naming the same politicians and businessmen featuring in my book could be called up on the internet. Any Kenyan taxi driver can tell you who Anglo Leasing's principals are. Why, the details are even splashed across Wikipedia.

My book's aim was never to name names, a job Githongo had already achieved. For me, Anglo Leasing's minutiae were of less interest than what the scandal revealed about a society I'd covered, on and off, for more than a decade. What fascinated me was the way ethnic rivalry — tribalism, to put it bluntly — was used to justify not only top-level looting by a ruling elite, but the sleaze tainting human interaction at every level of Kenyan society. It's a problem common to many African states.

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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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