Celebrating East African Writing!

A letter from Philo Ikonya

Dear All,


I am sharing this in order to seek advice, opinions, ideas of actions, thoughts even on the law in Kenya as it stands about books ….please let’s think together online and share and act.


I am aghast, and so is International PEN Kenya Chapter, at the return of fear in our bookshops and bookshelves both at home and in our streets. It is not acceptable in a country in which we have so vehemently defended our various freedoms that John Githongo’s book- Our Turn To Eat By Michela Wrong, whose genesis we all know so well and a book which has content that tells us so much more about our quagmire in graft should be a hush hush affair in terms of availability for those who would like to read it. After all, if it is a matter of spilling beans.. both the beans and the broth have been spilt all over the world… who is still feeling overly sensitive even about the BBC tapes.


This book must be easily available to all Kenyans if only just to see the different angles of the cancer of corruption that remains the single most important factor that requires our focus so that we can have even a ‘good’ constitution. The days of fear of expression are long gone. The book should be available and those who want to take legal action can do so….


I visited a friend who had it and would not disclose in which place it was available for fear of consequences even to me who is not a stranger to the person. I have seen a news item backpage of  Daily Nation recently telling us that bookshops are afraid to stock this book for one main reason- past legal suits that cost them up to the amounts of 10m for apparently stocking books that they say defame, almost always politicians.


I am not going to buy this book secretly from a shelf or from a friend and am not going to pretend that I do not have it in my house when and if I do because that will be abdicating my space to fear. I will not make do with reviews and even serialisations…I will not be afraid of reading it on a bus as someone else told me. What I want is to see this book being freely sold in Kenya. If the book cannot be placed on bookshelves we would like to know why and who said so. Someone owes us an explanation and we deserve it as much as those whom I saw demanding apologies and taking rather stern stands on an explanation about why the Standard was raided on 2nd March (JM’s day) three years ago.




Philo Ikonya


International PEN Kenya Chapter


4 comments on “A letter from Philo Ikonya

  1. Osas
    March 5, 2009

    One is very tempted to make a comment on Joh Githongo. But that would probably detract from Philo’s issue. The issue is not the merit or demerit of John, and whether a self-seeker who once (in another era) was one of Kenya’s best journalists, and after that, the country’s most, errrr, most… _prominent_ (yes, that is the single correct and exhaustive adjective) corruption fighter, whether such a man needs a ghostwriting amanuensis.

    The issue is that today, six very bwogable years after the “end of an error”, many Kenyans again seem willing to succumb to a mentality of subservience and cowing. Just as in Moi’s times. We know the books that could not be openly sold then.

    As to the fear of lawsuits – well, I admit that a fear of lawsuits is a much preferable condition to a fear of being abducted, tortured and ultimately being retrieved (maybe…) up as a burnt corpse in Ngong Hills. The latter fate, in our days, will only happen to you if you are a young jobless Kikuyu male of the Oppressed Classes, not if you are called Philo Ikonya.

    But in spite of my above admission, this flip notice of mine should not obscure the ugly truth behind it: that Kenya has no rule of law, that the Kenyan justices – quoad personam – are a flock of baboons in robes, both legally unlearned *and* deeply corrupt, and that the judiciary is probably the country’s worst tainted and least effective institution of all, far far worse in fact than our police.


  2. Peterson
    March 5, 2009

    this is the kenya we never wanted at all but we made it be this way ourseleves because we voted the leaders ourselves so let us deal with it ourselves.
    the government spokesman chides an ngo director 2 hrs later he is killed to big of a coincidence one would think i chose to think otherwise.
    those are my thoughts and are open to ctitisms but not to legal action please.


  3. philo Ikonya
    June 27, 2009

    Dear Storymoja,

    Firstly, humble apologies.. it is the first time am getting on this site of yours… things do move fast…

    but about “It is our turn to eat”…

    So, as fate would have it, the book came out, fear continued… but it was sold on the streets by some hawkers too hungry to worry about their fate…and it is illegal they say to hawk books. It was won on radios and many reviews were done of the kenyans reading and others… and we are about to read it in Kisumu in a PEN forum and then in Mombasa. I visited five bookshops one afternoon after we had read the book at the Kenya National Theatre.. and none of them would touch this book. Not even importers did. They were not storing the book.. But the book is all over the city… a little bookshop did keep the book and when i said that to a bigger one… he seemed to sway a little in his previous stand of fear…

    What is that Osas…in your comment? Philo Ikonya is not that large… I am almost paralysed by this page because it is all done on 5th of March.. one at 1138pm (Peterson) after the news of the assassinations of Oscar and Oulu. Osas’s was also after the event… but he is saying that these things only happen to Central Province young and oppressed male… The ones who died that day were young but not all central province and not as such oppressed…

    It is difficult to read the pages of my Kenya…her pages like his lips are sealed and hidden like “It is our turn to eat” was meant to be. It is difficult to read Kenya.. as someone put it…”pregnant with hope and danger” It is difficult to read her pages… still now. Three months down the line.. so much has happened, i do not hear about this event. Yesterday in a demo we asked .. but the media edited it out.. so, “It is difficult to read Kenya!”




  4. Osas
    June 29, 2009

    The point that I made stays. And has apparently been so strong and compelling that Philo would not address it. So, once again:

    The issue is that today, six very bwogable years after the “end of an error”, many Kenyans again seem willing to succumb to a mentality of subservience and cowing. Just as in Moi’s times.

    It is a question of almost pre-emptive subservience. Of serf mentality re-emerging. Where is the unbwogable spirit? Shoved away by the many fat swines grunting on their way to the troughs. Kibaki and NARC disappointed us, true. But it was ODM that truly betrayed us. The coalition was a bad thing. In every respect; most notably including human rights. And the media – just look how they went downwards since 2005!


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