Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Review: It’s Our Turn to Eat

a review of the book without having read the book. Note that I generally don’t like read reviews’. If I want to watch a movie or read a new fiction book, I won’t read any reviews of it till after I watch it; this is because reviews tend to contain too many spoilers and plot giveaways.

During the May Day holiday weekend, I finally finished reading It’s Our Turn to Eat – the bootleg version, one which the author warned was not the real copy. It’s a fairly comprehensive e-mail; I’d wager its close enough to the real thing that and that over 90% of the blog readers here have read the PDF (real or faux) - and please don’t ask me for a copy.

The introduction of the book to Kenya, a biography of former anti-corruption Tsar John Githongo (written by Michela Wrong), had three background factors
- John Githongo is a powerful, polarizing person in Kenya; a patriot & champion to some, a traitor & coward to others. While his accounts of events related to Anglo Leasing has been published in his parliamentary reports; not much has been written about Githongo the person this is his story
- While the Government of Kenya never commented or banned, the book, several Nairobi bookshops shied away from displaying or advertising the book. This was because of previous libel awards that bookshops who were near easy targets got fined for carrying books that powerful leaders (Nicholas Biwott) felt besmirched them
- Also at the same time, a PDF version of the book also circulating and was forwarded and downloaded widely The author Michela Wrong and her publishing house realized that there was a leaked version circulating and:

(i) Alerted her friends and the net community that a faux/earlier/incomplete version was being circulated
(ii) Released a low cost e-book to counter the faux copy.

Having only read the faux copy, I can only comment on what’s in it. I have no doubt it comes close to the real thing. I still intend to get a copy of the real book – either buying one from a friend, or having one delivered from abroad - good enough that I want to read the read the book - and not the E-Copy but the actual book; having a book still convey paper books have functionality, and durability that e-books don’t – I can read the book anywhere (matatu, bank queue, at lunch). Demand for the book is make me want to break a vow and obtain a credit card perhaps to buy it from Amazon (UK) or the publisher.

Michael Wrong’s last book I read was In the Footstep of Mr. Kurtz, about Mobutu Sese Seko and his years as President of Zaire (a.k.a the Democratic Republic of Congo.) It’s the definitive book for anyone new to the Congo or wishing to understand the Congo's post-independence history, economy, diversity, people, problems etc. Likewise the Githongo book - focused on high-level government corruption, raw tribal political leadership, ease of corruption, political interference/weakness of judiciary - will be the definitive book of the Kibaki era (Kenya 2002 to the present) and until other government personalities commission their own biographies, this will be the way that the recent political history of Kenya will be understood. It would be nice to read about Michael Waweru on tax collection strategies, Peter Kenneth and the use of Constituency Development Funds, Esther Koimett at the Privatization process, and Kilemi Mwiria on free primary education etc.

Other local reviews of the book.


Daniel Waweru said...

(cough) my review (cough)

PKW said...

I recently read Wrong's 'I didn't do it for you' about Eritrea (and Ethiopia). Helps in understanding the history of those two countries, but I couldn't help but wonder if the it was her voice that was more prominent in the book or that of her subjects.
Looking forward to reading her account of Kenya.
Daniel, I enjoyed your review, as well.

KuingaItaendaPia said...

We are so going to have another border scuffle. Look at the map in the book , Illemi Triangle is on the Sudanese side. Why is everybody taking our shit ?

More important ,
Sad that the african story is rarely told by Africans , Foreigners and Africans alike have to take opinion and history from biased book-factory Martin Meredith. I hope more Kenyans will take to authoring books or we are doomed to intellectual fraud for 100 more years.

bankelele said...

Daniel Waweru: off to read

PKW: I have not read her book on Eritrea

KuingaItaendaPia: resources including water are expected to be conflict flash points for the next few years all around the world


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