Sunday, October 20, 2013

RAILA'S THE FLAME OF FREEDOM, AND WHY WE WRITE

When the Daily Nation began serialising Raila Odinga's autobiography, The Flame of Freedom, I received the following post on my Facebook Timeline from a Moses Musamali, (and I re-produce it here verbatim without any changes:

"So Kenyan politicians should write a book in their retirement? These books they write are just propaganda, they write to tell us nothing but insult their enemies more. These books have no impacts like books mandela wrote. Miguna miguna, Joe Khamisi, Simeon Nyachae. And Many others wrote but non of them has any impact. They are just giving us their autobiography how they got their wealth."

I was tempted to respond immediately to thank Musamali for his comment and to inform him that my biography, Dash Before Dusk, would be out early in 2014 and that he should get a copy when it comes out, his views notwithstanding. After a brief thought I decided not to reply directly but to use this space to address the whole issue of books and why more Kenyans should put their thoughts on paper.

I am glad I didn't reply then because a few days ago I saw another posting from a Kenyan resident in the United States complaining about how Kenyans were denied entry into a venue in Minnesota, USA, where Raila was scheduled to launch his book. What caught my attention was what followed: the writer informed the world that the book was selling at 40 US dollars and already 100 books had been sold, meaning according to him, that Raila had pocketed 4,000 US dollars, an equivalent of 348,000 Kenya shillings at that one venue alone.

Firstly, I want to inform both complainants that writing a book, any book, is a time-consuming, tedious affair that requires many working days and many research hours that would be difficult to quantify in monetary terms. Secondly, there are expenses involved. There is an assistant and an editor to be paid. In the case of self-published works, the publisher must be paid; a budget must be set aside for the launch, promotion and marketing; and finally distributors and retailers have to get their commissions. At the end of the day, a writer ends up with a royalty of not more than 20 percent, if he is lucky. If the books fails to meet the basic threshold of sales, the writer loses out. So, it is wrong to assume that writers make a lot of money; just as it is misguided to think books don't have an impact. Books educate, enlighten and preserve history. Researchers use books for reference purposes; books also entertain. I am glad to say my own book, The Politics of Betrayal, is being quoted by scholars and is useful to students.

I want to tell Musamali that books such as The Flame of Freedom contribute greatly to the country's history. Raila is a very important personality whose role in the shaping of the Kenyan nation cannot be underestimated. People have said a lot about him, Now we want him to tell us with his own voice about his background, his political experiences, his tribulations and his struggles. I hope this will not be his last book because we are already looking forward to his memoir at the end of his journey.

I have not yet read the book because it has not reached where I am, but when it finally gets here, I will buy it just like I bought Nyachae's Miguna's, Babafemi's, Njenga Karume's and others.

Whether we like or not, books must be written for the benefit of future generations. Listen to what Raila told Linus Kaikai of NTV during a one-to-one interview: "The truth must come out...People should speak openly and frankly to chronicle what has happened so that it remains for prosperity."

It is just unfortunate that many Kenyans with a lot to say go to their graves with valuable knowledge and information instead of sharing them with others. That is why I am a consummate proponent of the written word and that is why I want Musamali and others who think like him to read, and if possible, to put to pen their worldly experiences for all of us to read.

And that is my say.