The book isn’t available in bookshops yet, the journalists reviewing it can only have skimmed it, yet Kenyan netizens are already gearing up to disparage John Githongo’s account of what led him to leave the country for exile in the UK, It’s Our Time to Eat.
While the Daily Nation piece on the book is not particularly controversial, the comments left at the bottom of the article hint at deep divisions within Kenyan society which prevail despite the trauma of last year’s post-election violence. Commenters are by turns furious at the government, at Kenyan society and at Githongo himself.
What’s most interesting are the certainties expressed by commenters despite the fact they cannot possibly have read the book yet. Githongo is being described as in the pay of “colonial masters,” there are calls for him to be tried for treason, still other commenters want him and Michela Wrong – the author of the book – to address the billions in ill-gotten gains squirrelled away in UK bank accounts, as though they are running a parallel government.
It is a strange but all too predictable occurrence that presented with the possibility of challenging facts, all too often those unwilling to listen will play the man rather than the ball. Instead of addressing an issue on its merits, they instead choose to attack those who have brought the matter up, hoping to silence or discredit them.
While this is not overly surprising given the fact that the book is not in circulation yet, the sheer vindictiveness of some of the comments is a thing of wonder to behold, especially when you remember that comments on the Nation website are moderated. Somebody’s delete button is probably feeling the strain.
There also appears to be an element of “talking out of turn.” Why has Githongo chosen to publish? Why didn’t he just make all his evidence available and have it dealt with in-house? Why is he teaming up with a foreigner (of all things!) in order to put his side of the story across? Of course, this could easily be countered by arguing that nothing has come of the Kroll report, the Anglo Leasing investigation had died because of government truculence, and we have yet to see any firm action on the current fuel and maize scandals. Waiting for the KACC to get its act together could take a very long time.
Personally, I hope that the book will be widely-read, if only for a political insider’s insights into the functioning of the organs of state. What worries me, however, is that many of the readers will already have hardened opinions before starting to read the book, and will most likely only read it to have their prejudices reaffirmed.
Will Githongo’s book change any minds? It’s difficult to say one way or another. It is also impossible to see if any action will be taken by the political establishment on the back of any claims contained within. What is a certainty is that Githongo should prepare himself for the brickbats of naysayers who will never accept his point of view, no matter how it is presented.
Update: there appear to be quite a few articles on the book that have managed to hit the international press, so I thought I’d save you the trouble and provide a couple of links.
Michela Wrong, who is actually the author of the book, has written two pieces, one for the Times (UK) and the other for the Independent. Given her proximity to events, they’re not going to be wholly impartial, but some may find they give some insight.
There is also another Independent piece, based on an interview with Githongo. I know that some think that he’s shooting his mouth off, but what you have to remember it’s more than likely Fourth Estate, the publishers, arranged all of this. They have a book to promote, after all.
In the Guardian, Paul Collier manages to link Barack Obama, Kenya and Zimbabwe into an analysis of corruption and Githongo’s book. It is in the paper’s comment section, but comments are now closed. If you want to complain, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way and send an email to the editor.
Reuters also got in on the act and has apparently classed Wrong and Githongo’s work as a “business book.” I suppose that it might be useful for international entrerpreneurs wanting to set up in Kenya, but the description still feels a bit off.
The South African Times seems more enamoured of the methods Githongo used to acquire his evidence, describing him as a “techno geek.” Geek? Does Githongo have a Twitter account? Maybe we can follow him and ask him questions. I don’t think he’d want to friend any of the current government on Facebook.
Wanjiku Unlimited also has a post up on her blog, where most of the comments appear to be Githongo-friendly, though I don’t know if this is because of moderation or whether they really are so much more measured than the comments that made it through to the Nation piece linked to above.
The Financial Times has a review of the book, in which Githongo’s adventures are described as “magnificently foolhardy,” though the overall impression given is relatively benign.
Reuters also gets in on the act, with a piece that is part-review, part interview with Michela Wrong. There’s only one comment at the bottom of the article at the time of writing this, but that may change as more people visit.
After Michela Wrong’s earlier contribution, in the Times (UK) there is also a full book review by Stephen Robinson, where the issues that contribute to our glorious kleptocracy are touched upon, though the piece would have to be much longer to be truly authoriatative.
Patrick Smith at Afrik also has a book review up, with a handy link for those able to order from the Financial Times bookstore. This particular review is a little light, but reading it could add to the sum of opinion for those who are still unable to get their hands on a hard copy of the book itself.
The Economist. “How to Ruin a Country.” ‘Nuff said.
In The Guardian (UK), there is another book review by ex New York Times Kenyan correspondent Raymond Bonner, and also a piece by their man on the ground, Xan Rice, who covers the reluctance of local bookhops to stock the book.
The Times (UK) has yet another piece covering the book, too, this time a review by the director of the Royal African Society, Richard Dowden. I hope Michela Wrong has sent the people at the Times a fruit basket or something, because that paper has shown her mad love recently.
Daniel Waweru, my colleague at KenyaImagine, has also written his own review of the book. How he got the time to read an analyse it on top of everything else he does, I have no idea. The comments left for his review are quite interesting, too.
There’s also another article on the difficulty in getting hold of the book on Buzzle. While it’s nice to see people paying attention, what would be great is if a local bookseller would grow a pair and sell it openly.
The Nation continues has now finished its serialisation of “It’s Our Turn to Eat.” Below is a list of the published extracts:
- Kimunya: Oxford Rendez-Vous
- Githongo was Given ‘No Choice’
- Kibaki’s Failing Health Stalled Pledges
- Just Check that I’m Free and Come Right In, Kibaki Told PS
- Githongo Thought his Ties with the President were Special
- When Allies Turned Against Githongo
- How Secret Tip-Off to an MP Opened Can of Worms that was Anglo Leasing
- Why Githongo Started Taping his Colleagues
- The More He Probed the More It Dawned that All Was Not Well
- You Are Going to Resign, Aren’t You? Njonjo Asked
Phew! As of March 19th, I think this is the end for reviews and commentary, though I have been wrong before. As for those of you still looking for a copy, I am told on good authority that Amazon UK will happily ship to Kenya and are fairly reliable for delivery.
Update 2: HarperCollins is now offering the book in PDF form, available to download for those with a credit card. While there is no facility for payment by M-Pesa yet, they are apparently working on it.
[Image by MrTwism]