Mugabi Byenkya

Writer and poet Mugabi Byenkya took to Twitter to name and shame Ugandan bookshops that have failed to pay him years after supplying his debut poetry collection Dear Philomena on December 19, 2020. It seems to be working.

After the arduous task of writing several drafts and going through the publishing process, the writer is now ready for the public. One of the hardest parts has to be the distribution of their books which are ready for the reading public to but and consume. This is because there aren’t that many spaces one can supply one’s books seeing as bookshops don’t seem to be a huge priority for governments and/or even investors. Then when one does supply the books to the few stores available, some of them take very long to make payments to the writer or publisher. Some simply abscond with your payments like Africa Flavour Books did to many South African writers. This leaves many with little or no recourse with few options for those who have been thus ripped off.

Mugabi Byenkya is an award-winning writer and poet who was longlisted for the Babishai Niwe Poetry Award 2015 based in Kampala, Uganda. His essays and poetry have been published in The Good Men Project, The Mighty, and Skin Deep, along over 25 other publications. He has been interviewed on Voice of America, NTV Uganda, and Brittle Paper, along over 40 other media outlets.

Mugabi’s debut poetry collection Dear Philomena was published by Discovering Diversity Publishing in 2017. The collection came with the following blurb;

An extraordinary debut novel from the young Ugandan/Rwandan/Nigerian, Dear Philomena, is the story of two strokes, one boy, one girl and a whole lot of magical realism.

July 1991, Leocardia Byenkya underwent an ultrasound that informed her to expect a baby girl. She chose the name Philomena.

January 16 1992, her baby was born as a boy. Filled with shock and surprise, Leocardia named her baby boy Mugabi.

December 2014, Mugabi suffered from two strokes within a week of each other. Mugabi was 22 years old.

‘Dear Philomena,’ is a series of thoughts and conversations between Mugabi and Philomena (the girl he was supposed to be) about the year he was supposed to die but somehow lived through.

Like any excited writer, he supplied copies of his books to bookstores around Kampala and sent those who asked for the books to go for copies should they want them. That should have been the end of that one would assume. It was not to be as it became a years long campaign to get paid for his product.

On December 19, three years after the book published, Mugabi went on to his Twitter with grievances. It seems like he had had enough of trying to get his money from three bookstores he gave his books in Aristoc Booklex (@AristocBooklex1), The African Studies Bookstore, and Turn The Page Africa.

The Twitter thread, produced with his permission, is also below. It has been edited for clarity;

Thread/Update on my #NameAndShame #PayAuthors Fiasco;

  1. The African Studies Bookstore located in the #UgandaMuseum deleted their Twitter account promised to pay me on January 8th 2021. They have sold 15/20 books I consigned to them and promised to deliver the remaining books to my home as I’m not interested in continuing our business relationship. They apologized and had a bunch of excuses/justifications. I don’t understand them as our contract literally stated I would receive payment at the end of each month for books sold. 3 years later, they have sold 15 books and I have received no money. We’ll wait to see if that changes come January 8th 2021 inshallah Folded hands
  2. @AristocBooklex1 just called me. They apologized and attempted to victim blame me. I don’t understand them either as our contract literally stated I would receive payment at the end of each month for books sold. I consigned 30 books to them in June 2017. By December 2017, they had sold 18/30 books. I did not receive my first payment from them until July 2018. That payment wasn’t even for all the books. It took over a year of calling & frequently visiting their locations in-person in order to get that first payment. That’s a lot of money spent on Airtime and transport. I should NOT have to do this. They frequently said they’d call back with info on my payments but never did. Every time I went to their offices, I was given a different person to talk to and a different excuse. I assumed that this was merely the cost of doing business as an #IndependentArtist as y’all #Freelancers know the struggle is real but this ain’t right. @AristocBooklex1 then attempted to victim blame me and said: “By the way, we have in our records that there was an initial check you never picked up. That’s why things have been delayed” This a blatant lie and a form of gaslighting.

This initial check was prepared after months of me harassing @AristocBooklex1 and being given the runaround. They finally had it ready months after it was expected/stipulated in our contract. They informed me it was finally ready but I was out of the country by then on tour. I informed them that I wasn’t around to physically pick up the check so could send my Mother on my behalf. They asked for her number and NEVER called her. Then they attempt to victim blame me acting like the check being not picked up was my fault when I follow up with them the next week. I’m sick and tired of the lack of accountability. @AristocBooklex1 is literally Uganda’s largest bookstore owned by some of the richest people in Kampala. Why can’t they #PayAuthors? Why do they pay the large publishing corporations on time? Why can’t they do the same for independent presses? Why haven’t they paid @SoooManyStories for all the books they’ve sold? Why are Ugandan authors hidden in the back while White Americans get displayed in the front? #ColonialismIsAHellOfADrug

@AristocBooklex1 promised to get my payment situation sorted by Tuesday. I have little faith as I’ve gotten a million & one empty promises from them in the past with zero follow through. Nonetheless, I keep hope alive and hope to receive payment inshallah.

  1. @MR_TWINO of @TTPAfrica hasn’t responded to any of the writers like @dilmandila who said he never paid them for books sold. I’m grateful I was actually able to receive some (but not all) of the payments owed to me. The only way I was able to do this was because I frequently harassed him. Using a lot of money on airtime + transport to Wandegeya. @TTPAfrica ‘s website is currently and @MR_TWINO seems to have gone into hiding. #SuspectBehaviour

If you’ve gotten to the end of this long thread/update/rant I would encourage you to Re-Tweet and share all tweets. If you live in Kampala, please support the wonderful @mahiribooks & @KlaSmokehouse. They are the only 2 bookstores I’ve worked with in Kampala thus far that actually #PayAuthors on time. Also shout-out to @thecreakingbook who do the same and will be stocking ‘Dear Philomena’ soon!

Do not support @AristocBooklex1, The African Studies Bookstore and @TTPAfrica unless they change their behaviour. The ONLY apology I accept is changed behaviour. No more empty promises.

The thread seems to have worked as Aristoc Booklex (1 year later) and The African Studies Bookstore (3 years later) finally made their payments when the thread started going viral in Ugandan Twitter. Turn The Page Africa continues to be nowhere to be seen.

Based on the above, it seems like these are bookstores that any sane writer hoping to supply books in Uganda should avoid like the plague.  Do you have any experiences like these to share Ugandan writers, poets, and publishers?

P.S. I gave Artistoc Booklex an opportunity to reply to these accusations from one of their suppliers via email. They have not responded by the time of posting this blog.