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Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s Terrorist of the Aberdare wins Wahome Mutahi Prize

Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s novella, Terrorist of the Aberdare has won the third edition of the Wahome Mutahi Literary Award, while John Habwe’s book Cheche za Moto won the Kiswahili category of the same prize. The awarding ceremony was the highlight of the 13th edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair.

An elated Ng’ang’a Mbugua, who is also the chief sub-editor of Daily Nation, says that the win has vindicated his edition to self-publish the book. “I presented the manuscript of this book to several publishers and they turned it down,” an elated Ng’ang’a told Maisha Yetu. “Since I had faith in the book I formed Big Books, took a small loan and published the book.”

Ng'ang'a Mbugua, left, receiving the certificate and cheque from Bedan Mbugua of Royal Media Service, after winning the Wahome Mutahi Literary Award

Ng’ang’a’s example shows that there is indeed life after publishers slam the door on a writer. I can imagine how the publishers who rejected the manuscript felt after Ng’ang’a stood to receive his prize. “Were we that blind?” they must have been asking themselves. And what does this say about the judgment of publishers who were given the chance to publish this book, and they rejected it? Should we start questioning their competence?

How many more potential winners are publishers sitting on? not to mention the ones they have rejected?

You might be wondering what Terrorist of the Aberdare is all about, whether it has anything to do with America’s old enemy, Osama bin Laden. Having read the book I can assure you that it has nothing to with Osama’s brand of terrorism. It talks about a different kind of terrorist: it is about elephants that cause havoc to farmers’ crops

These elephants leave the park and come to destroy farmers’ crops. Apart from that they also kill farmers who stand in their way. In Ng’ang’a’s book the victim of the elephant’s terrorism happens to be one Sonko Wakadosi, who was dispatched to his Maker by a rogue elephant. The author manages to address the serious issues of human wildlife conflict and environmental management by employing humour.

For the last few days Kenyans have been riveted by the exploits of one Mike Mbuvi ‘Sonko’, who trounced ODM’s Reuben Ndolo and PNU’s Dick Wathika to clinch the Makadara parliamentary seat in Nairobi. While talk about Sonko (rich man in Sheng) has revolved around his seemingly endless riches, the Sonko in Ng’ang’a’s book is dirt poor, and whose hope of striking it rich was through the sale of the cabbages so beloved of the elephants.

For his trouble Ng’ang’a takes home Ksh50,000 (625USD). But for Ng’ang’a money is the issue. it is about the recognition that comes with the win. “I plan to ride on the publicity generated by the win to really market my book,” says Ng’ang’a, whose company has already published a short story The Last Kiss, which is doing relatively well in the market.

Even before the award Ng’ang’a says that Terrorist of the Aberdare has done well in the short time it has been in the market, and that he has managed to recoup the money he invested in publishing the book.

The first edition of the Wahome Mutahi Prize was won by Onduko bw’ Atebe’s Verdict of Death, in 2006, while activist Okoiti Omtata’s play Voice of the People, won the prize in 2008.

Ng’ang’a has written other books including Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya, (Sasa Sema) Catherine Ndereba: Marathon Queen (Sasa Sema), Susana the Brave (Focus), among others.

Events News

What to expect at the Nairobi International Book Fair

In case you have forgotten, the 13th Nairobi International Book Fair is still on at the Sarit Centre Expo Centrer will run up to Sunday September 26. So make a point of making an appearance there.

Mr Lawrence Njagi, the chairman of the Book Fair say that this year, the have received a record number of foreign exhibitors “We have about 20 foreign exhibitors at this year’s Fair. There are exhibitors from India, UK, USA, Nigeria, Senegal and Netherlands, among others. This is a testament to the growing international status of the Fair,” explains Mr Njagi.
Among the key attractions of the Fair includes the Budding authors seminar taking place tomorrow between 9 am to 4 pm. The seminar brings together up and coming writers who receive writing tips from professionals in the industry.
People looking to enrich their libraries or bookshops should visit the Fair on Saturday September 25, whereby publishers will be auctioning books. “People should come expecting to buy books at discounted rates of up to 50 per cent,” says Mr James Odhiambo the executive secretary of Kenya Publishers Association, the organisers of the Book Fair.
There will also be a special performance dedicated to the late Dr Ezekiel Alembi, who apart from being a published author, used to coordinate children’s activities during the Book Fair. The Alembi Hour is on Saturday between 11 am and midday.
The climax of the Book Fair is the awarding of the third edition of the Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize, on Saturday evening at the Nairobi Club.

Events News Personalities

Why Kiyiapi’s presence at the Nairobi International Book Fair means so much to Kenyan publishers

Kenya’s Education Permanent Secretary Prof James ole Kiyiapi will, on Thursday, September 23 preside over the official opening of the 13th edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair, at the Sarit Centre in Nairobi.

The very fact that Prof Kiyiapi has agreed to officiate at the event is not lost to players in the publishing industry. This can be translated as a sign of improving relations between Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), the organisers of the book fair and the Ministry of Education, based at Jogoo House in Nairobi.

Relations between publishers and Jogoo House had deteriorated to an all-time low, with publishers complaining that former a Prof Karega Mutahi, the immediate former Education PS, was arrogant and high handed.

Publishers however had their last laugh after Prof Mutahi was caught up in a maelstrom of corruption allegations, over textbook funds, and was suspended by President Kibaki, following sustained pressure from the public, donors and civil society.

To say that publishers breathed a sigh of relief would be an understatement as textbooks are the bread and butter of a majority of Kenyan publishers. If money meant for school books was being misappropriated, then it meant that publishers were unable to make ends meets.

At some point publishers were heard complaining that Jogoo House was getting too chummy with booksellers, falling over themselves to fulfill the whims of booksellers while publishers looked on green-eyed.

A case in point was when ministry officials allowed booksellers to publish names of booksellers cleared to sell books under the Free Primary Education (FPE) in the Orange book. All this was done behind the backs of publishers.

Thus when Prof Kiyiapi was moved from Medical Services to Education ministry, publishers made the earliest efforts of being seen to be in his good books. At a recent meeting between the publishers and the PS, publishers asked him to consider removing the six-book ceiling on books approved to be used in public schools.

Under the six-book ceiling public schools can only chose from a list of six books per subject. This means that even if ten books have met the required standard by KIE, only six books would pass. The rest would either go to waste or publishers would be forced to market them to private schools. Publishers are not known to be very good marketers.

This means that publishers whose books were not approved incurred heavy losses.

It is understood that at the meeting, the PS promised to look at the issue and was in agreement with publishers that the six-book ceiling needs to be done away with.

It now remains to be seen whether the ministry will effect the removal of the offending six-book ceiling.

Back to the school books scandal. The effect of schools failing to get funds for buying books meant that revenues for publishers were not getting money for books they had already published and thus their revenues severely affected.

The result is that publishers found themselves in dire financial circumstances and most were forced to retrench their staff.

The 13th Nairobi International Book Fair is therefore being held against a backdrop of declining business on the part of publishers. This is evidenced by the fact that there will be very few new books being launched this time round.

And that is why Prof Kiyiapi’s presence at the Book Fair is viewed as a major victory for publishers.

Events Issues News Personalities

Nairobi International Book Fair will blow you mind away

The Annual Nairobi International Book Fair, now in its 13th edition is set to take place from September 22 to 26, at the Sarit Centre in Nairobi. Maishayetu spoke to Mr Lawrence Njagi, the chairman of the Book Fair on what is in store for book lovers. Mr Njagi is also the managing director of Mountain Top Publishers.

Mr. Lawrence Njagi

Maishayetu: What does the 13th Nairobi International Book Fair (NIBF) have in store for potential visitors this year?
Lawrence Njagi: As the premier book show in the East African region visitors should come to the book fair expecting to see the best that the region has to offer in terms of books. This means that visitors should be able to interact with these books under one roof, and in a relaxed atmosphere, without being hassled by salespeople.
This is also about the only opportunity that book lovers are able to meet and interact with their favourite authors. What is more, these books are offered at highly discounted rates. This means that bookshops and libraries should take advantage of this offer to stock up. We will also be conducting seminars and workshops on relevant topics like intellectual property rights and digital publishing. Aspiring writers will also benefit from a seminar on how to successfully get published.
All in all, all visitors to the NIBF, from children, the youth and grownups should come to the Fair in the knowledge that their needs will be adequately catered for.
Q: You have been chairman of the NIBF for the last three years now, what have been your achievements so far?
A: When I took over as chairman of NIBF, the average number of visitors to the Fair was 6,000, by last year that number had risen to 17,000. We expect more visitors this year. Two years in a row, all the stands have been fully booked, and the demand for stands is growing. This means increased revenue for NIBF.
This year, we are having the largest number of international exhibitors at the Fair; five from India, two from Nigeria, one each from Senegal, China and Ethiopia. Of course we have the usual exhibitors from Uganda and Tanzania. This is not forgetting other international visitors who are not necessarily exhibitors. This is thanks to the aggressive marketing campaign, we have put in place.
In addition we now publish a free-to-distribute magazine which gives readers relevant information on the book industry.
Q: Kenyan publishers have been accused of being too textbook-oriented and therefore neglecting creative writing.
A: Before you heap all the blame on publishers, it is good to take a look at the bigger picture. A closer look at the system of education in Kenya reveals that it is too exam oriented; therefore putting to much pressure the student to pass exams at all costs. That rigid culture leaves little room for leisure reading, hence the reason many Kenyans don’t see the need to read after they are through with official schooling.
Q: Aren’t publishers contributing to the problem then?
A: First of all you have to understand that publishers are first and foremost business people looking to make maximum returns, and there is no denying the fact that textbooks provide a good source of profits to publishers. But we also have a moral duty to serve the emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of readers, and that is where non-textbooks like motivational and fiction fall. All we are saying is that the government needs to put in place policies that encourage leisure reading, a good starting point would be an overhaul of the current system of education.
Q: Still, that does not take away the fact that publishers do not market non-textbook materials well…
A: Let me say that when a book is not well marketed, both the publisher and author suffers as both have invested heavily in the publication. This is therefore a call to publishers to cast their net wider as far as marketing their books are concerned. Let publishers make use of all forms of media, print, electronic, the Internet even, to make noise about the availability of their books. In addition to bookshops, we at Mountain Top sell our books in all major supermarkets around the country. Authors too should come up with ideas on how well to market their books.
Q: You mentioned a seminar on digital publishing, are Kenyan publishers ready to embrace this new technology?
A: Publishers need to be dynamic and be able to embrace new technology as it comes along. However, the reality is such that majority of Kenyans still do not have access to electricity, and thus computers are out of reach for many. Stil, there is a generation of Kenyans that is quite well versed in digital technology and these ones have to be taken care of as well.