Kenya’s government spokesman Alfred Mutua decided to wear yet another hat before he clocked 40 in August this year.
He is now the country’s latest motivational author out to make a profit as an expert on how to make lots of money in this short life.
I bought my copy of his How to Get Rich in Africaand Other Secrets of Survival in a fancy bookshop in Nairobi and got disappointed immediately for spending my Sh600 on such a book.
My first instinct was to throw the book in a trash can together with my used paper towels or return it to the bookstore without claiming my money back.
But probably I was wrong in my dismissal of the book.
A few days later, some young fellows working at a hotel where I stayed, pleaded with me to give them the book on getting rich that they had seen in my room not caring for any of the various editions of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks or The Wretched of the Earth that I had.
The strength of Dr Mutua’s book lies in the catchy title and glossy cover.
But unlike Freud’s masterpieces as repackaged by Penguin Classics, I am not very sure there is much content in the 219-page book.
Or probably I am not so keen on getting alternative sources of revenue after 40.
However, it is the kind of book many Kenyans would want to read.
It tells the story of his rise to a senior government position after roughing in the bushes as a freelance features correspondent in Kenya and an amateur filmmaker in Arabian deserts.
He meshes his story with those of other Africans who have made it big in a continent better known for its poverty, violence, and slums than for anything else.
As we walk with Dr Mutua to upscale coffee houses and supermarkets, we rub shoulders with media moguls and top businessmen who have enough good advice to go around.
His premise is that there’s a lot of money to be made in Africa if you have anything that looks like a head on your neck.
“Despite the image of a hopeless continent, African nations have a vibrant market for goods,” he writes. “Multinational companies …have huge operations on the continent.”
He does not tell us about the exploitative tactics of some of these financially successful companies and individuals.
He admires the work of the Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, but he does not expose African governments to the kind of criticism Prof Ayittey extends them.
He is a huge stickler to the rule of keeping things simple.
The book is probably “simplistic” and sometimes entertaining.
He has practical lessons on how to save money and start small business ventures. He urges readers to avoid the beaten track and start businesses that are unique.
As a literary critic, the part of the book I liked most is where it talks about itself because it is very honest, sometimes naively so.
“I chose the title How to Get Rich in Africa and Other Secrets of Survival because I wanted a catchy title that was relevant and interesting, and captivating enough to make someone want to read it,” he writes.
“You are reading this book because I have marketed it heavily,” Dr Mutua continues, after telling us that he packaged the book in a way that would make it compete with books globally.
His words are reminiscent of the words of Buchi Emecheta, the author of The Joys of Motherhood, when she boasted in one of her interviews, to the chagrin of Chinua Achebe, that her books are now no longer classified as African in bookstores because of their high-quality covers.
Dr Mutua says that in order to promote the book: “I plan to utilise all my advantages and connections to get [word about] the book out. I will organise to have stories about me and the book published in the local Kenyan and East African media.”
If his scheme works, we’ll confirm the ideological maturity of our journalists.
He hopes to make “close to Sh1.5 million” from the book if it sells 5,000 copies.
“Now, imagine the book takes off and sells 10,000, or 20, 000, or even 50,000 copies. I may be dreaming, but as John Lennon said in his song, ‘You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one,’” he writes. You don’t hear much about giving to the poor. If the book sells as the author dreams, he says the money “is enough to put as a deposit for an apartment to rent out or money to buy several acres of land somewhere or better still, pump up an education for my children.”
Psychologists might find the multiple ventures Dr Mutua has started and praises in the book as models of good business as just symptoms of personal insecurities — already at 40 and unsure of the security of his government position and welfare of his children.
Critics might wonder if he is not encouraging us to be dilettantes and conmen as long as we can make money and survive at the workplace, even selling books with beautiful covers and catchy titles, but which have no useful content.
Even without telling us how much he is worth now, he seems to see “getting rich” narrowly in terms of making money.
In Africa, you are still poor if your relatives live in penury.
This book will be a hit, thanks to marketing gimmicks. Its success may teach Kenyan publishers how to package their books.
Having learnt a few business lessons from How to be Rich in Africa, I will say it’s a well written and exquisitely edited book only because I want to resell my copy to the interested young fellows at my hotel.
My ultimate take-away lesson is: never let any shilling lose from your grasp.
If by mistake you happen to buy a useless book, don’t be tempted to throw it away in anger.
Review it for the best-paying newspaper before reselling it to recoup some of your losses.
Prof Mwangi is the author of, among other books, “Bildad Kaggia: Voice of the People” (Sasa Sema-Longhorn, 2001). E-mail: [email protected]