This week, I was looking forward to reviewing “Conversations with myself”, the new book by Nelson Mandela that came out on October 12. All that changed on account of one Olive Kobusingye, a, hitherto, little known doctor currently living in Kampala, Uganda.
Until her book came out last month, it is safe to say that very few people, even among her countrymen and women, had heard of Kobusingye. Fewer still would have known of her relationship to that country’s leading opposition politician, Kiiza Besigye. Yet, since her book, “The Correct Line?: Uganda Under Museveni” hit the market, Ugandans in and out of the country have talked about little else. And this in a month when local athlete Moses Kipsiro bagged the country’s first ever double gold medal haul at the Commonwealth Games in India. The government has moved to ban the book, confiscating a consignment that was recently imported into the country. Needless to say, the book is flying off the shelves at Amazon.com.
So what is it about this obscure writer’s book that has so scared the Uganda government?
For any writers looking for instant success, here’s the secret. Put out a book condemning a government’s hitherto blatant abuses on its population. A few overzealous sycophants will quickly decide that your book is a step too far, and in a fit of self-righteousness and arrogance, they will go ahead and ban it. Inevitably, with this single foolish step, public interest in your book will light up like a wild fire and the rest will be history. It works all the time.
Only three years ago, Kenya’s government tried to ban Michaela Wrong’s “It’s our turn to Eat”. Predictably, interest in Wrong’s book shot up, and it became a local and international bestseller.
In Nigeria, Nobel Prize Winner, Wole Soyinka and Commonwealth Prize Winner, Festus Iyayi rose to international fame precisely because the governments of the day tried to ban their books.
And it works in other parts of the world too. For instance, just recently, US government calls against the release of documents by Wiki Leaks only served to spur media and public interest in the documents.
Even with all the lessons from history, we continue to see governments naively cracking down on authors who refuse to toe what Kobusingye calls “the correct line”. And this despite the fact that we live in an Internet age, where information is ubiquitous and where anyone anywhere can publish information and share it with whomever they want. It baffles me that governments and businesses still think they can use 19th century methods to shape what their citizens can read.
For now, I will turn my attention to Mandela’s new book – a fitting and welcome distraction from the sloppiness that is so evident in the attempts of the Uganda government to win the hearts and minds of its people.
You can read the Africa Book Club review of Kobusingye’s book, click here.
Click here to buy yourself a copy of The Correct Line?: Uganda Under Museveni at Amazon.com