Themes in East African Literature 50 years after independence: A Critical Review of Selected Plays
Themes in East African Literature 50 years after independence: A Critical Review of Selected Plays.
Joseph Musungu1 and Eric Wamalwa2
This paper presents a critical review of the major thematic concerns in East African Literature 50 years after independence. It examines the relevance of East African literature in responding to the needs of the society which is critical to any genre of literature. This is predicated on the fact that literature is basically a reflection of social realities in any given society. This paper employs Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) its examination of the way East African playwrights use language to comment on a number of problems bedeviling post independent states. The paper mainly focuses on a review of thematic concerns in major plays by some of the leading playwrights in East Africa since independence. Given that literature is a reflection of the society, it has emerged that many East African writers have been deeply preoccupied with the issues bedeviling the society such as the clash between tradition and modernity, neocolonialism, politics of independence, education as well as social problems such as corruption, economic disparities in post colonial East Africa, and the rights and roles of women in the society.
Key Words: Themes, Critical Discourse Analysis, Playwright, Genre
At the attainment of independence in the early 1960s, East African countries, like many others in Africa were faced with a myriad of challenges. These challenges ranged from poverty, illiteracy diseases and neocolonialism. In Kenya, for instance, the first three were declared the enemies of development which posed a threat to the newly independent country. It is imperative to note that most East African writing, like all literature, has a special commitment to formulating the basic values of society and is both a reflection and criticism of those values. Literature creates a sensation of the life of the society and as such forms part of the total cultural accretion of the society. The paper examines the major thematic concerns in East Africa Literature and the factors behind such concerns. This is realised through a review of a number of genres of literature both in English and Kiswahili. Chris Wanjala (1972: 35) rightly observes that: “the dynamics of the literary scene thus ensure that political and cultural slogans are more and more outdated in relation to the more permanent aspects of art.” This implies that literature is not simply rooted in history but rather keeps responding to the changing society.
This paper examines the works of different writers with the aim of reviewing the major thematic concerns in these works for a period of fifty years since the East African countries acquired political independence. These works are: Arege Timothy’s. Mstahiki Meya, Hussein Ibrahim’s Mashetani, Imbuga Francis’ Aminata, Kithika Mberia’s Kifo Kisimani Ruganda John’s Shreds of Tenderness.
This paper employs Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) in the analysis of themes. According to Baxter Judith (2002), CDA analyses real and often extended samples of spoken and written discourse. This theory adopts a micro analytical view of the world in that it takes the notion of discourse in its widest sense as social and ideological practice. In this paper, the researcher has critically examined the use of language in the selected texts in order to establish the relationship between language use and the themes therein. It is instructive to note that the language employed by different writers in this paper is closely tied to the thematic concerns.
Some writers, for instance have employed symbolic language to communicate certain themes especially those touching on governance. Other scholars who have contributed to the development of CDA are (Fairclough and Wodak, (1997), who argue that CDA sees ‘language as social practice’ and considers the ‘context of language use’ to be crucial. One definition which has become ‘very popular’ among CDA researchers states thus: CDA sees discourse – language use in speech and writing – as a form of ‘social practice’. Describing discourse as social practice implies a dialectical relationship between a particular discursive event and the situation(s), institution(s) and social structure(s),which frame it. The discursive event is shaped by them, but it also shapes them. That is, discourse is socially constitutive as well as socially conditioned – it constitutes situations, objects of knowledge, and the social identities of and relationships between people and groups of people.
It is constitutive both in the sense that it helps to sustain and reproduce the social status quo, and in the sense that it contributes to transforming it. Since discourse is so socially consequential, it gives rise to important issues of power. Discursive practices may have major ideological effects – that is, they can help produce and reproduce unequal power relations between (for instance) social classes, women and men, and ethnic/cultural majorities and minorities through the ways in which they represent things and position people. (Fairclough and Wodak, (1997: 258). Thus, CDA understands discourses as relatively stable uses of language serving the organisation and structuring of social life.
This paper employs Critical Discourse Analysis to examine the way East African playwrights use language to comment on a number of problems bedeviling post independent states. The paper examines why certain form of language is chosen over the other by playwrights and the overall impact of such choice of language. What emerges is that in most cases, writers tailor their language stylistically to comment on a number of salient issues affecting people in East African countries.
This paper is based on primary data derived from Arege Timothy’s Mstahiki Meya, Hussein Ibrahim’s Mashetani, Imbuga Francis’ Aminata, Kithika Mberia’s Kifo Kisimani and Ruganda John’s Shreds of Tenderness with main focus on thematic concerns in these plays. The five texts were purposely selected with the view of examining the major concerns that cut across the works of different playwrights in East Africa. The findings in this paper mainly relied on the researchers’ close reading of the selected plays which span a period of over forty years.
The plays have been drawn from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to represent the rest of the playwrights in this region. The researchers critically read these plays with keen interest on unfolding issues in East Africa since independence as presented in these plays. In addition to reading the primary texts, the researchers equally reviewed relevant secondary sources on East African plays in particular and literature in general to complement the primary data. The paper has undertaken a critical review of the major texts whose results are discussed in the following section.
This section offers a critical review of the selected plays with a view of establishing the major concerns that characterise East African plays.
John Ruganda’s Shreds of Tenderness
The late John Ruganda remains arguably, one of East Africa’s most eminent dramatists, directors, theatre critics and practitioners. His dramatic genius has been particularly outstanding and a number of his politically nuanced plays have, to this day, continued to feature prominently at both high school and university levels in East Africa especially in Uganda and Kenya. Apart from the four plays thus: The Burdens (1972), The Black Mamba (1972), The Floods (1980) and Shreds of Tenderness (2001), Ruganda has written and produced other equally popular dramatic works such as Covenant with Death (1973), Music without Tears (1982) and Echoes of Silence (1986). The four plays by far represent the most sustained dramatic exposition of the political turmoil and decline that characterised the Ugandan nation in the 1970s and 1980s.
From these plays, we can argue that the stories of private familial destinies in Ruganda’s plays are allegories of the embattled situation of the public third world culture and society of Idi Amin’s Uganda. His rule was ruthless and intolerant and unleashed terror and even death anybody who opposed it. The characters in Ruganda’s plays seem to resonate directly with the historical reality in Uganda at the time the plays were first written and performed. For instance, at the time The burdens was first performed at the Uganda National Theatre by Ruganda’s own Makonde Group in 1972, the play’s storyline couldn’t have been more relevant. Since those years, the image of Amin as a ruthless murderer has remained significant, not just to Uganda’s political experience and history but as a ubiquitous personality cult that has spawned many volumes of literature.
Ruganda’s plays are heavily inundated with characters, events and themes that can easily be traced back to the period of Amin’s reign. Because of the political situation at the times he wrote and performed his plays, many of his dramatic plots sound like allegories of the Ugandan nation. In The Burdens, for instance, the central female character of Tinka is molded as a “troubled mother.” This is a figure of the Ugandan nation. The play recounts the fall to disgrace and squalor of a once rich politician who has since been deposed from his position as a government minister and is now wallowing in abject poverty and penury.
The figure of a troubled woman as an allegory of the nation is even more pronounced in Ruganda’s Black Mamba. Namuddu, a semi-literate wife of a houseboy, Berewa, is persuaded by her husband to join him at his white master’s house to, allegedly, assist him with his chores so as to enable the couple get rich fast. However, as events unfold, it emerges that Berewa has duped his immoral employer, professor Coarx to have his wife sleep with him in exchange for money. Though Namuddu is reluctant at first, Berewa manages to convince her to offer herself to the professor so as to extort as much money as possible. This is a pointer to the rot that note only characterised the era of Idi Amin in Uganda but is also real in the contemporary east African society. Interestingly, Berewa uses the promise of modern consumerist rewards like good dresses and shoes as a way of convincing his wife to sleep with his boss against her wish. It is even more telling that Berewa is the one in full control of the finances that come with this illicit relationship. Apart from depicting the rot in political establishment, this play equally points at the harsh economic realities in post independent Uganda and East Africa in general. These economic hardships have made many people resort to desperate measures of making money.
Shreds of Tenderness is set in post independent African country that is just emerging from a dictatorial regime. The dictator has been in power for ten years. Towards the end, the author gives information that leads a keen reader to realise that the setting is in Uganda. There is mention of the activities of the infamous State Research Bureau (SRB). The play is divided in two parts. In part one, the reader is led to believe that Odie is a great man who would have done everything to salvage his country from the political turmoil that it goes through. On the other hand, Wak, his step brother, in absentia is depicted as a coward who runs for his dear life when his family and country needed him most. In part two, the truth dawns on the reader-Odie is a hypocrite who has betrayed his brother and disposed him of the Nile Apartments and many other property left by their late father. At the end, we experience some new beginning at psychological level when Odie says: “I have discovered my mind.” (P134).
The playwright captures a number of issues that affect post independent African states. Some of them include: effects of Political Instability and the role of the mass media.
There are numerous effects of political instability in this play. To start with is the question of refugee crisis. Wak, a university lecturer is forced to run and seek political asylum in a neighbouring country. This exposes him to a dehumanising process of seeking refugee status. This is vividly captured in play within play where Stella is treated to all sorts of abuses and harassment in her desire to seek the refugee status. The police men subject her to a lot of torture. The same refugees are considered as burdens in the host countries where they are seen as posing a great challenge especially in competing for the limited resources. While referring to the unwelcome presence of refugees in foreign countries, Stella in the play within play simply retorts: “They are pests, these aliens.” (P.104). This is with regard to the overdependence of refugees on host countries. Nonetheless, it is equally imperative to note that these refugees are equally wasted resources because they cannot contribute to the development of their mother countries where they have been forced to flee.
Political instability equally results into human suffering, insecurity and bloodshed. The coups that characterise such instabilities as witnessed in this play involve killings and murder. For example, Wak’s father who is a former minister dies amidst such coups. Many innocent citizens are also subjected to inhuman treatment and torture especially by the ARB in this play. Generally, this instills fear and people cannot freely execute their daily chores.
Political instability can also be blamed on family break ups and rivalry. Those who flee to neighbouring countries leave behind their wives and children the way Wak does. (P114). He runs and leaves his beloved sister Stela. When his father dies, Wak is never present for burial. This presents an opportunity for the scheming Odie to disinherit him.
The economy has not been spared the biting effects of political instability. For instance, the playwright observes that after the coup, citizens have to queue for long just to receive some scarce basic needs. This is a result of inflation occasioned by the outflow of investors due to political uncertainties. Consequently, greedy men like Odie take advantage to grab whatever comes their way. The brain drain occasioned by the flight of professionals like Wak does not favour economic growth either.
Human rights are equally violated in the state of political instability. For instance, women are raped and children defiled. A typical example is Stella, who together with other students, are raped during political turmoil. Freedom of movement is equally curtailed by the introduction of curfews. At the beginning of the play, Stella is worried that Wak has not arrived home yet the curfew hour is just almost. Citizens, privacy is also infringed on and people have basically no freedom of speech.
It can be argued that the effects of political instability have gone as far as leading to psychological illnesses or anguish. Wak for example is mad at the acts of Odie who is mentally ill and has a crazy obsession. Refugees and host citizens also stress one another by hurling insults at each other to breaking points. For example Mr. No Fear No Favour and Wak.
Generally, political instability has ruined democracy in many post independent countries in that a democratic society is suspended. There is no election of leaders and there is dictatorship. This is realised in the struggle between Wak and Odie. The presence of soldiers in virtually all places including social ones literary denies people their freedom of movement and association. The resultant effect is guerrilla warfare or armed conflict that has bedeviled many African countries.
The mass media in Shreds of Tenderness is put on the spot. The playwright projects the mass media as a stooge of the powers that be. In the play, The Sunday Times Newspaper reports that the reign of terror has ended and urges the exiles to return home. This greatly influences the views of the exiles. What should not be forgotten is the fact that the same mass media had indeed greatly contributed in entrenching the dictatorial regime for a decade.
The mass media has equally been depicted as a tool for propaganda and a forum for settling scores. For instance, the radio announces the killing of Wak and a few other dissidents and people listen to this propaganda. Odie equally uses the same media to settle personal scores with Wak by placing Wak’s picture in the Argus proclaiming him dead. He does this every year for the ten years that Wak is away.
The international media has not been spared the blame either. For instance, when the military regime ascends to power, the international media is the first to announce that it recognizes states but not individuals. The media in this case is oblivious of the suffering that the common people have been subjected to at this turn of events. To this end, it can be inferred that the media, both local and international, is a mere mouth piece of the powers of the day and is ever struggling to remain relevant. This is contrary to the expectations of the roles and responsibilities of the mass media. This subjective reporting can be blamed for the many problems facing post independent African states.
It can be concluded that the Idi Amin era in Uganda is a specific epoch that was so traumatising to the soul of the nation that it remains one of the most sorrowful eras which has consistently been used to define and re-imagine Uganda’s nationhood. Ruganda’s deployment of female characters clearly gestures towards a re-engineering and re-birth of the Ugandan nation amidst the trauma of Amin’s era. Most of the female characters are symbolically projected as subversive protagonists who defy the patriarchal systems of governance run by men.
Francis Imbuga’s Aminata
In this paper, we focus on Imbuga’s play Aminata specifically for the purpose of assessing the level of dynamism in thematic concerns. Imbuga in his play Aminata tries to mirror and limelight a number of issues of societal concern affecting Membe. Notable ones include; women empowerment and education.
Women empowerment takes centre stage in the play. Since time immemorial, women have suffered the place of beasts of burden, victims of suppression, and objects of pleasure and far looked down upon in our societies. In Aminata, this situation has changed. The resurrection of women into stools of rule has given them a different look. For instance, Mama Rosina takes over from Jumba to become the first woman to sit on the stool of leadership in the Membe society. This way, the Membe society has empowered women so that the voice of Membe can be heard through them. Women have equally been empowered through education. For instance, Aminata is highly educated and an astute lawyer. As a result, she knows her rights and works hard to protect them. She is ready to defend her late father’s will to the effect that she inherits a piece of land. She fights for it amid objections from Jumba and her brother, Ababio.
The education she receives has equally empowered her financially. This is witnessed through the myriad projects she sets up to help the people of Membe. She brings piped water to Membe and starts a tailoring business for her uncle, Jumba. She also pays fees for Ababio’s children and takes care of her late father, pastor Ngoya, when he is sick. She even buys him a coffin when he dies. This is an equivalent of literally burying her father. She is also credited with hiring a choreographer for the children’s choir in Membe. All these redeem her reputation. She becomes very popular and Agege admits that Aminata is “more equal than Ababio,” a polite way of underscoring her achievements where her brother has failed. Agege poses: “call me anything but my mouth is for truth. Aminata is equal than Ababio.” (P9). Consequently, it earns her good will from many old men in Membe including Abadi. Generally, the play, Aminata, is all about women empowerment. Imbuga upholds the dignity of women by presenting them as capable and wise people. This is a great shift from the traditional perspective where the woman’s was highly questionable in many circumstances.
Education in Kenya in particular and East Africa in general, was and still is one of the main concerns in realising development goals. The transformation of any society largely depends on education. It brings change by opening up people’s minds to change their perception and shade off their prejudices, misconceptions and misunderstandings that they have about life. This comes out as a very important theme in Aminata. For instance, the misconceptions that women cannot rule or inherit property or even partake certain things like taking chicken soup are all inconsequential to an educated person.
Aminata is paying school fees for Ababio’s children with the hope of transforming the society. Her going to school in itself helps develop the theme of education. She is a lawyer by profession and married to Mulemi, a doctor. The two have a manageable family as compared to the uneducated Ababio who has a large family that he cannot take care of. Dr. Mulemi ignores aunt Kezia’s advice to have a large family. When aunt Kezia pesters her with the need for more children, he retorts: “We planned for two children and we are happy. Happy because the children’s future well-being is partly guaranteed by their number.” (P36). This really irks aunt Kezia who is without doubt convinced that Aminata is indeed the one to blame for the current state of affairs in Mulemi’s home.
To her, the worth of a woman is not determined by her level of education but rather her ability to take care of her husband and also give birth to as many children as possible. Aminata, a scholar, is responsible, social, humble and understanding. She is equally objective and open minded toward societal issues. She is presented as a perfect epitome of an educated woman. This is opposed to uneducated fellows like Jumba and Ababio who represent backwardness in the society. It is instructive at this level to observe that Imbuga pleads for a society that cherishes education and is ready to empower its people-both males and females- in line with the changing socio-economic and political realities. Any attempt to ignore a given group of people should be discouraged as much as possible. The fruits of such empowerment are clearly revealed in Aminata.
Ebrahim Hussein’s Mashetani
It has been claimed, and rightly so, that politics affects economic development. Indeed, the former President of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi is remembered for having said “siasa mbaya maisha mbaya” loosely translated “bad politics brings about no development”. The relationship between politics and economic well-being in developing countries have been brought to fore by E. Hussein. The advent of colonialist in African nations saw them label Africans as primitive, who needed redemption. The metaphoric presentation of Shetani who has great power and ability to destroy and exalt makes Binadamu to revere and humble himself before Shetani, the colonial master. This humility and reverence results in the two sharing a secret, which Binadamu finds too difficult and painful to articulate. In the process, Binadamu sees the light that transforms him from darkness to light.
The advent of colonialism brought about a way of life that though many new leaders of the newly independent African nations openly castigated, they silently adored. This is depicted by the swopping of positions by Shetani and Binadamu in the play. Binadamu wants to go up the ladder economically. Anchored by two protagonists, Juma and Kitaru, are friends at university hold antagonistic positions with regard to their history. Juma who is a student of history for instance castigates Kitaru for his love for the book, Essence of Colonial Heritage. On the other hand, Kitaru, a law student, claims that his mind has been enlightened ever since he started reading books of history! Kitaru infact wishes to change faculties. Juma however intercepts him by saying the law profession best suits Kitaru because it will present him with a big salary, lots of respect and an opportunity to be a boss. It is clear that what is in Juma’s mind is the social and economic background of Kitaru’s family, a capitalist family. Kitaru’s is a family which has had all. Kitaru’s father indeed posits that” it is now time for the Africans not to remain behind.” He wants to use his position of leadership to economically empower himself. This state of affairs saddens Kitaru, who holds the view that Shetani is same as colonialism, neo colonialism and mental slavery. This is what mirrors our society. Politics has been seen as a launch pad upon which many launch themselves into stardom and economic well-being. This is in contrast of Juma’s family, who previously owned large tracts of land, which were taken over by the new government at independence, but are now being taken over by upcoming capitalists like Kitaru’s family. It is evidently clear that in doing this, there is a big economic gap between the two families. On one hand, Kitaru’s family relishes in a lot wealth, shown around by the brand of vehicles driven, lifestyle while Juma mourns their dwindling economic well-being. This is the birth of social classes in society, born and oiled by differences in economic power between different groups in society.
Kithaka wa Mberia’s Kifo Kisimani
Set in an imaginary nation called Butangi, Kithaka wa Mberia presents profound issues bedeviling many developing nations in Africa. Since many nations gained independence in the early 1960’s, leadership has been one of the major themes delt with by major writers. African people’s hopes and dreams soon after independence melted away due to the sorry state of leaders who took over from the colonialist. This plays out clearly in Kifo Kisimani.
Second Liberation, one of the major themes comes out clearly. The state of affairs in Butangi and the pathetic lives of the people demands that something urgent has to be done. Mwelusi, the main character plays a pivotal role to enlighten the masses about their rights with regard to their expectations from their leaders, true meaning of peace, respect and development to all the citizenry, right to good governance and alleviating poverty. Second liberation, the world over, has never come on a silver platter. Any country or nation that espouses the above mentioned expectations must, however, be prepared to pay the ultimate price. Martin Luther King paid the price in America by the bullet of an assassin. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years in South Africa. Close near home, Raila Odinga, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, to mention a few were detained for several years without trial by the Moi regime. Mwelusi, an enlightened young man in his mid-twenties realizes that backing out of demands for the second liberation of his country is betrayal to his country. Together with young like-minded friends: Andua, Atega and Azena, they join hand with disgruntled members of the state agencies like Kame realize their objective. Their activities however are not taken kindly by Bokono, the defacto ruler of Butangi, who it is claimed by his sycophants, is to rule for 100 years! Like most tyrannical African leaders, Mtemi Bokono’s state agents employ all sorts of tricks, ranging from blackmail, forced detentions and maiming, false promises to try and silence Mwelusi. However, Mwelusi’s realization that a new Butangi offers a new and rare opportunity to all citizens of Butangi to have an equal share of the national cake only serves to strengthen his resolve to see the birth of a new nation.
It is this new nation that offers all citizens the right to conserve and protect their environment for posterity, which Bokono’s men destroy with un-envied wanton. The new Butangi offers an opportunity for collective participation in leadership as opposed to Bokono’s dictatorship. A new Butangi will be a place for harmonious coexistence between different communities, as opposed to Bokono’s in which animosity is at its highest and villages are burnt down by government operatives. Mwelusi thus refuses any of the offers made by security agents for him to back out. The state operatives finally explore the greed of his brother, whom they promise to wed Mtemi Bokono’s daughter. As a result, Gege, Mwelusi’s brother kills Mwelusi by the well. It is important to note however, that once the fire of liberation was lit, it was not envisaged to pass out. Atega, Mwelusi’s confidant assumes leadership that finally sees the birth of a new Butangi.
The state of a nation is the reflection of its leaders and its governance. Butangi is no exception. Kithaka wa Mberia vividly exposes bad governance in the play. Mtemi Bokono, the autocratic leader makes sure the people have no basic freedom and respect due to them. In most African countries, factors of production are a cause of major conflicts, be it ethnic, regional or nation to nation. Thus, when government operatives deny masses the right to use national resources (read the wells at Mkomani, Mkuyuni and the valley of Ilangi) is a pure recipe trouble. In Kenya land has been an emotive issue since independence to date. Only a few have access to this very important factor of production. Majority of Kenyans are squatters in their own country. Zimbabwe is another example where land is an emotive issue. In Butangi, Mtemi Bokono was so preoccupied with retaining his position of leadership to such an extent that he was least bothered by the cries of his people. In fact, serious demands were brushed aside for little complaints. A government that has no regard to the human rights of its people has no moral obligation to speak for its people. Governments are elected to protect their citizens, foster democratic space and preserve the rule of law. But reminiscent to the Nyayo torture chambers, Butangi has its own, where dissident voices are taken and tortured. Bad governance world over, has corruption as one of its main anchors. Butangi is bedeviled by corruption from the lowest to the highest level. National resources (read as wells, land, playgrounds, forests etc) have been snatched by the high and mighty in government. Dissent voices are enticed with gifts of big parcels of land, national honors and material wealth. It is important to note however, that those who succumb to these enticements end up without moral authority in society. Mwelusi thus resolves to stand up against any of the offers that are presented to him so as to forsake his agenda. This is a clear indication that however rotten a certain society is, there usually are remnants.
Timothy Arege’s Mstahiki Meya
“Mstahiki Meya” literally translated “His Worship the Mayor” is set in Cheneo. Again, poor governance is the overriding theme in the play. This play is set in the 21st century, where inclusivity and participatory leadership is meant to be at play to foster development. However, 50 years after independence of most East African states, things haven’t changed. In fact, they seem to remain the same as decades go by. As earlier mentioned in the introduction, soon after gaining independence from their colonial masters, leaders of the new East African states declared war on poverty, illiteracy and disease. Ideally, 50 years after independence provides us with an opportunity for serious stoke taking of our development agenda in terms of gains and losses. Though much has taken place, to which we have indicators, the portrayal in Mtsahiki Meya leaves a bitter taste in many salivating mouths of the East African countries citizenry. It is evidently clear that elected leaders, who are supposed to represent the electorate are not responsible and do not serve the interest of the electorate.
Instead, such leaders spend the bulk of their time serving their selfish interests. Likewise, a myriad of problems that bedevil many government institutions have their genesis in poor governance, greed, corruption and bad advisories from agencies. When elected leaders fail to play their role rightly and correctly, literally, there will be no development, thus poverty will entrench itself, no meaningful processes of production are undertaken and therefore the whole society lags behind. In Cheneo, workers’ salaries are delayed. In case they get any pay, then it is half pay. This in turn makes them to be perennial borrowers.
It is so sad indeed that some workers retire without any retirement benefits. Workers have no health insurance while at their working place. As if they were lesser citizens, they are not entitled to treatment in the council hospital. They can only access medication upon hefty payments for the said drugs. Like in many African nations and Kenya in particular, leaders in Cheneo are used to giving empty promises that are never fulfilled. There is no participation in developmental agenda as is manifested in the decisions of a few leaders on the millennium development agenda.
External borrowing weighs heavily on the citizenry who have to pay heavy taxes over many generations to repay external debts. Worse still, they pay debts for which they have no value addition. The borrowed funds are misappropriated by the leadership who spend poshly, while neglecting the education of the masses. This only serves to entrench poverty, illiteracy for lack of schools and proper facilities and an ever presence of sickness and disease. Arege depicts Cheneo as town hit by an acute shortage of food, financial struggles poor sanitation and lack of human housing for the people. This sorry state of life can be said to be a direct result of lack of good quality education, corruption, greed and lack of policies that aim to address the day to day lives of the people.
It is critically important for political leaders to realize that the masses will always be suppressed for a period of time but not for ever. In stark reference to “Mstahiki Meya” a times come when workers demand their rights. This leads to workers organizing strikes, in which a number of citizens are killed, ultimately, paying the price for the liberation of many. That this is happening in our countries 50 years after independence not only satirical but leaves a lot for reflection.
This paper has explored major themes prevalent in selected East African plays. It has emerged that many of the common themes which dominate East African plays mainly revolve around governance. In most cases, East African leadership has been depicted negatively as being exploitative and oppressive to its people. Consequently, many writers have come out strongly to condemn this kind of leadership by African leaders.
This kind of leadership is blamed partly on the ill equipped state of East African countries to manage their internal affairs soon after independence and also on the general selfishness of post independent African leaders. It is, however, significant to note that East African playwrights have been able to articulately point out the role of citizens in ensuring fair leadership. A critical reading of these texts underscores the need for the citizens of East African countries to assert their position in the governance of their respective countries if any meaningful development has to be realised.
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