Mfonobong Nsehe’s Global Apology for ‘Africa’s Best Stories.
In November 2009, I had a dream. My dream was to promote African literature to the rest of the world. I wanted to create a platform whereby the very best of African literature could be published in an anthology format and sold to the world. I wanted to use the platform to promote amazing African storytellers and create many bestsellers out of them. As a lover of African literature, I set out to create what I hoped would become a globally-recognized quarterly of African literature.
We also had a solid business plan, and social plan. Financially, we planned that 50% of financial proceeds will be shared by the founding team, 30% will be distributed equally by contributing writers in each anthology, and 20% would be given to charities of the writers’ choice.
So, in my final year at College, I called together my colleagues from school. I told them about my dream. A publicity campaign was launched at our school and on Facebook, asking our friends to nominate their favorite African short stories and poems (written by renowned and less-known authors).
We received close to 120 works including short stories and poetry from several well-known and established writers, and less established but very good writers (mostly from my school). After a careful selection process which involved myself, an editor friend of mine and a few of my literature-savvy childhood friends currently studying in Ivy-league colleges, we came up with a final compilation of stories. We had 17 stories in all, which had been written by the likes of Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Adichie, a certain Rosie R, Molara Wood, Oscar Mubila, Kingwa Kamencu, Muthoni Garland, EC Osondu, Jude Dibia, Seffi Atta, Mike Nwosu, Toni Kan Onwordi and Chika Unigwe. Others were Lilian Koki, David Omwange and David Blackskillz (who are my colleagues in school).
Satisfied with our collection, we were faced with the challenge of contacting all the big name authors to request for permissions to republish their stories. I contacted a lady called Agnes Kariuki, an acquaintance I had met at the Hay literary festival in Nairobi sometime last year, and who frequently visited our school. When I first met her at the festival, she told me she worked for E.A.E.P, Kenya’s largest educational publisher and she told me that she had contacts with many of Africa’s big literary names like Chimamanda, Unigwe and co. It was very hard not to believe her since E.A.E.P actually works with these big writers. She looked so credible, plus she actually had an official I.D card. Looking back, I now doubt she even worked for E.A.E.P. She told me she could contact them all to sign contracts.
She demanded money for her service, which I paid happily with funds we had received from a venture capitalist. Several weeks later, in April this year, she came back to me with signed contracts supposedly from the ‘authors’ involved. She told me she had spent the past weeks emailing and faxing the writers, telling them about the project, and finally getting them to consent to their work being republished in our anthology. The documents she actually gave us looked real, and all 13 documents had very realistic signatures of all the supposed authors on them, their ‘home addresses’ and ‘email addresses’, ‘Bank accounts’ to pay the royalties into, and everything. I was particularly excited, and we set out to publish.
So by late April 2010, we went to press. The same month we incorporated StoryAfrica, and on the 27th of April, our anthology, ‘Africa’s Best Stories’ was released to the public without much fanfare.
For the first on week, sales were slow.
So my team and I went to the drawing board to brainstorm on ways to get news about the book out to the world. Very few creative ideas came up, until one of my people suggested that we associate the Oprah book club with the book. It seemed like a good idea then-anything Oprah endorses turns to gold. So, we liked the idea. At that point in time, it seemed funny to us. We didn’t really think much of it- we did not expect people would actually believe us. But surprisingly, people did. Looking back, that publicity stunt was one of the really stupid things we ever did.
So, my team member drafted press releases and sent to various websites. The article spread fast and it was indexed quickly on search engines, news sites and the web in general. Sales began to grow (since people actually thought Oprah endorsed the book), and a company from Indonesia and Australia wrote to ask for rights to republish the book.
A few weeks later, we received numerous mails and complaints from the authors featured in the anthology who’ve now confirmed that they never signed any contracts with Agnes and that we actually did publish their stories without permission. Apparently, I and my team were defrauded by this lady. No contracts were ever signed, and we published reputable authors’ stories in our anthology without their permission. That was plagiarism. It is an almost unforgiveable sin in the literary world. Meanwhile, Agnes is nowhere to be found anymore.
However, since the book was already out, I requested the writers to grant permission to use their stories. Many of them chided me for contacting them after the book had been published, but after explain to them our predicament, they gave their permission to use their stories and gave their blessings to the project anyway. Some even requested for copies and tried scheduling appointments with me. However, some of the writers, particularly Mrs. Molara Wood, were extremely upset by the project, understandably, refused to give us the permission to use their stories and proceeded on a massive internet campaign that has unjustly branded StoryAfrica as a scam, and myself as a fraudulent mastermind, copyright infringer, and intellectual thief, which I’m not. The whole debacle has escalated to a scandal of immense proportions, with some of my colleagues and aggrieved partners fighting back a particular author (Mrs. Molara Wood) for causing me extreme reputational damage through her blog.
To salvage the situation, I have ordered our publishers to stop publication of the book forever. The book has been destroyed completely and is not being sold anymore. Even though it is listed on Amazon.com, the book is not actually there. We published on a Print-On-Demand platform which means that no copy of the book exists, except it is pre-ordered for. We have destroyed the book, and we are not receiving any royalty for Africa’s Best Stories since we have made reports to the publisher on the copyright issues surrounding the book.
On behalf of StoryAfrica and myself, I want to use this medium to once again, apologize to the following authors: Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Adichie, a certain Rosie R, Molara Wood, Oscar Mubila, Kingwa Kamencu, Muthoni Garland, EC Osondu, Jude Dibia, Seffi Atta, Mike Nwosu, Toni Kan Onwordi and Chika Unigwe for the unpermitted use of your stories. We are very sorry. I am very sorry for the problems this might have caused you.
I also want to sincerely apologize to all writers, literature lovers, Oprah and everyone that might have been offended by this publication. Our intentions were good; unfortunately, we went about it in unorthodox ways. We sincerely regret it and we have learned from it. In the future, we will do things in a more appropriate way. Please forgive.
Finally, I have been called all sorts of unprintable names in various blog posts round the web on account of this issue. I do hope you will understand that I am not some evil, nefarious criminal or intellectual thief who wanted to reap where he did not sow. I had a good plan, but a fraud from a lady ruined it all.
I have bared the truth, and nothing but the truth. I will leave you now to pass judgment. But please, remember mercy. Once again, accept my sincere apologies.
StoryAfrica will come back in the near future, and when we come back, we won’t make the same mistakes again. We’ll do things right. Everything. We won’t make false, misleading celebrity claims to boost sales-we’ll come up with smart publicity ideas. And I will talk to potential authors myself.
Once again, please accept my sincere apologies.