Raid reveals how publishers are losing millions to book pirates

From Left: Vinandis Khamasi of East African Educational Publishers Ltd, Bernard Obura of Kenya Literature Bureau, David Waweru (chairman-Kenya Publishers Association), Muthoni Garland (MD-Story Moja) and an officer from KPA pause with stolen books at a store at Kenya Copyright Board offices at NHIF Building in Nairobi.

A raid in downtown Nairobi unearthed a multi-million-shilling school textbook piracy racket.

The racket was uncovered after the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) and Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) raided Nyamakima in Nairobi and Ngong in Kajiado.

The raid also revealed how rogue head teachers were were colluding with hawkers to rob textbooks from public schools.

First, brokers visit schools and identify academic course books meant for all classes - from Standard One to Form Four. They then rope in school head teachers, who without following laid-down procurement laws, give them tenders to supply books.

They then link up with book pirates who operate backstreet printing firms who quickly print the books and directly supply them to schools.

In another racket, pirates, brokers, headteachers and hawkers work together to stage school break-ins, steal books to sell on the streets to unsuspecting buyers.

The group then shares the loot as the Government, authors, genuine booksellers and publishing firms lose out on the millions that should have been theirs.

 "In Ngong, we netted 30 copies of textbooks but the culprit took us to an accomplice at Nyamakima where we got 10,342 copies of books with a market value of Sh5.5 million," Edward Sigei, the chief executive officer of KECOBO said.

He revealed that his agency has identified Nyamakima area as the melting point of book piracy and is working with relevant security organs to crack down on the book pirates.

"Another loophole is the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) customs officials. They focus so much on meeting their daily targets than helping in identifying crooks who even print local titles in abroad and ship them back in containers," Mr Sigei said.

He said the owner of the warehouse where the books were kept escaped their dragnet. One suspect arrested in Ngong was helping track down the warehouse owner who is on the run.

"This is a multi-billion-shilling syndicate with branches all over the country. Among the books we have netted are copies stolen from public schools. We are happy with the information we have so far," Sigei said.

KPA Chairman David Waweru said book piracy was hurting publishers, writers and Kenya's knowledge base.

"Piracy discourages authors who want to make contribution to society through writing books, their knowledge is lost to the rest of us," he said.