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October 05, 2009

'It's Our Turn to Eat' update

IIt_s_Our_Turn_To_4a8fd5c53a319n February I wrote about the de facto retail ban in Kenya on "It's Our Turn to Eat," Michela Wrong's eye-opening book about ethnicity and political corruption here. Since then a creative U.S. Embassy staffer helped some activist groups sell a few thousand copies at reduced prices (under a grant by USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives).

But the book remains "too hot" for any Kenyan bookstore to stock openly and regularly, and the only Kenyans who buy the book now are those who travel overseas.

Michela e-mailed me last week about a new and innovative distribution project that I'm happy to help publicize. A group of Kenyans in London and Nairobi have launched a website that links customers in Kenya with local distributors who have the book but aren't selling it openly. Here's the best part: the buyers can pay with M-Pesa, the wonderful mobile money service that I believe is one of the best low-tech innovations of the decade. No need for credit cards.

The website is www.thekenyashop.com.

Michela says the folks behind the website are keeping their identities secret for now, but she vouches for them. "This is not a con trick," she says. Sale price is 1500 Kenya shillings (about $20) -- cheaper than what I paid for my copy in South Africa, but higher than the USAID-subsidized price and still expensive for ordinary Kenyans. Delivery is same-day. They're starting off with 150 pilot copies to see what interest is. This morning the website says 140 copies are still in stock.

Michela says:

I'm doing my best to publicise this as there seems to be a real nervousness about using the site. It currently gets hits but very few orders. I'm told this might be because Kenyans have been burnt by various website scams in the past. Or maybe it's because of what Philo Ikonya called "the return of fear." Call me self-obsessed, but I doubt that the potential Kenyan market for this book has been exhausted yet, even if I'd like to see the price going down.

I have to agree with her: the book, despite being out for nearly a year, remains much more talked about than actually read. It's a shame, because it's one of the most important books on Kenya to come out in years.


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Is this book available in the United States?


I wanted to let you know that I was able to check the book out from my local library in Las Vegas. It's a very interesting read. I plan to post a review on my blog Kaleidoscopic Wandering once I've finished it.


The book is now available openly in several bookstores in Nairobi, I saw it Bookstop in Yaya center the other day.

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Somewhere in Africa was written by McClatchy correspondent Shashank Bengali, who covered sub-Saharan Africa from 2005 to 2009. He's now based in Washington, D.C., as a national correspondent.

Read Shashank's stories at news.mcclatchy.com or send him a story idea.


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