Cadbury epitomizes the wrongs with corporate Kenya

Three weeks ago, a Cadbury Kenya representative was hosted by Trevor Ombija on Citizen TV to talk about an initiative the multinational was launching to publish Kenyan-themed stories for children. The campaign dubbed ‘In Our Own Words’ seemed noble and piqued my interest as a writer – until three days ago. The company formally released the guidelines for submission and launched the platform for submitting the 200 – 500 word stories, but many writers are disgusted for valid reasons.

First, Cadbury Kenya makes a load of false claims in the pursuit of this campaign. The claim that ‘two-thirds of Kenyan parents say their children are not represented in the books they read’ is not accompanied by any research data for back-up. One would expect that being a corporate whose main work is not in the publishing industry, the multinational would have contacted the relevant stakeholders for data driven conclusions before launching the campaign.

If they had, they would have discovered that the Kenya Publishers Association has a membership of about 100 publishers, with over half of them each producing more than 20 children’s titles every year. They would also have discovered that some of these publishers such as Phoenix, EAEP, Moran, and Longhorn have been doing that for more than thirty years, and new entrants such as Queenex and Storymoja have become household names in the children’s fiction industry.

They would also have known that The Kenya Publishers Association runs an International Book Fair in Nairobi every September where majority of the goers are children, and at this festival of books, authors are rewarded with the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature including for the best books in children literature.

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If they had consulted the Uwezo Report 2015, they would have discovered that one of the biggest challenges in this area is not lack of BUT access to relevant local books.

That being said, the Cadbury team that mooted the idea confidently and unfortunately reasoned that acknowledging the originators of intellectual property in the 21st Century was not cool, and paying such creators was unfathomable. In fact, Cadbury being so thoughtful would OWN the rights to the stories. ‘Participants will receive a thank you notification once their original story has been submitted’  and ‘participants will not be compensated for their original stories … and therefore will not be story author upon publishing,’ the Terms state.

We must acknowledge that Cadbury Kenya is not a non-profit, and the exercise is for its own benefit as a ‘CSR’ achievement. But why would a multinational be so confident to carry out a campaign like this one, and ignore all queries raised by experienced creatives on their social media platforms?

They are definitely a representative of the corporates that are mute and deaf to the ongoings in the creative world especially in the last two years. It is a period when creatives and corporates have had rough discussions on what it means to value creative work as someone’s career that has to help pay bills, develop self and live a respectable life. Several corporates have learnt to appreciate this fact: they are now paying photographers for their photos, bloggers for their promotional content, and writers for their creativity. That was some light in the tunnel – but Cadbury is trying to put out that flicker in the dark tunnel with a single blow.

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During the pandemic, writers have struggled to make ends meet because most publishing houses were unable to pay royalty due to poor sales occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic and closure of schools. A few organisations such as the Africa No Filter and British Council have come up with initiatives to cushion writers from such setbacks. But evidently, the majority of corporate Kenya is yet to appreciate that creative writing is a job like any other where there is investment of time, expertise and brain. Some of us have pursued writing at university and post-university level, and produce tens of contextually relevant works that are used in Kenyan schools today.

In case the thinkers at Cadbury have a problem understanding this piece, I would summarize it as follows:

  1. No, there is no dearth of Kenyan/African themed children’s stories in Kenya, and plenty continue being produced. You can support without denigrating or using the tired line.
  2. Writers need to be compensated for their work.
  3. It is unethical to claim ownership of copyright for work that is not yours.

The action by the Kenya Copyright Board to write to Cadbury about the immorality of this campaign is therefore a welcome idea. Adding to our voices will definitely change the landscape in this industry.

Feature Photo by Mwangi Gatheca on UnSplash