Saturday, December 8, 2012

Francis Imbuga is dead

I met him when I was hardly 15.  The man was a genius.
He really could tell the story of the disillusionment of post-independence Africa like no dramatist I knew.
And I was a young, skinny secondary school student but could still read into his play 'Betrayal in the City' way beyond my years.
I only learnt later that Francis Imbuga was Kenyan.
The fictionalized country of Kafira seemed more akin to  1960s Nigeria or some other hard-knock African tragedy. Kenya seemed a little more distant from his world of Kafira.
And the soliloquies of his protagonist (Mulili) were steeped in high-grade philosophy.
I actually didnt meet Francis Imbuga in real life. I met him through his works.
'Betrayal in the City' was a set play in O' level literature in English but I fell in love instantly.
We memorized those lines long after we had to pass O' level literature.
The year was 1990 and I was an impressionable student of literature in English at Mbarara High School.
It is these kinds of works of literature that set me on the path to liberal arts even when I vaguely wanted to be an engineer- a childhood answer to 'what do you be when you grow up?'.
As a student of literature, our task was clear in making a 'literary appreciation' of a play such as 'Betrayal in the City'.
Oh I still remember, the themes and ideas, dramatization, character and characterization,  use of language and choice of words...
I could very well do a damn national exam in that play if I was required to like I was in those grey days in 1992.
'Betrayal in the City' is a play set in a fictional country of Kafira but it could well be post independent Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia.. name it.
It is a story of dashed hopes of post independence Africa. The British Colonialists are replaced by African elite who actually  end up being 'an enemy of the people'to paraphrase another illustrious work of literature.
I still recall a line in the play 'the fruits of Independence, we get them second hand'.
Some say we were better off under the British. A little extreme there but look at all the corruption, mal administration, political thuggery, mass poverty, dilapidated hospitals and Schools and yet look at the top of the range Mercedes Benzes,Swiss bank accounts, the latest private jets..the sheer opulence of African elite amidst the crushing poverty and hopelessness of the African people.
'When the troubles of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say the man is mad'.
Fare thee well, Francis Imbuga. I was blind and you began to open my eyes.

1 comment:

Kipkoech Choge said...

Nice post. Imbuga was indeed a legend in the African literary world.