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The East African : Nov 17th 2014
The EastAfrican IV theat≥e ‘Kaggia’: Play immo≥talises fo≥gotten he≥o Although well-known to olde≥ Kenyans, Bildad Kaggia’s life t≥ajecto≥y may be less familia≥ to post-Independence gene≥ations, w≥ites DANA APRIL SEIDENBERG with Kaggia, the achievements of gifted author SibiOkumu are readily accessible. Like that of America’s polymath genius Paul Robeson, Sibi-Okumu’s starstudded life has seen him excelling in several overlapping careers. In addition to being a successful playwright, Sibi-Okumu has worked as an actor, director, teacher, biographer, journalist, television presenter and newscaster.” ‘‘ powerment — how personal strength and honesty can transcend a destructive social system and the lure of material wealth. Against insuperable odds, a few gutsy men and women chose honour — remaining true to an alternative moral universe despite the consequences. In the play, directed by Nick J As is the case Njache at Nairobi’s Professional Centre, with a running narrative structure illuminated by flashbacks, Sibi-Okumu casts his net over the wide expanse of later 20th century Kenya politics. He navigates the turbulent political waters of Mau Mau and the equally tempestuous Independence era in a gripping drama that merits first place as the best serious play of 2014 (if there were such a prize). His dramatis personae include four members of the Phoenix Players — lumpy, cerebral Harry Ebale, perfectly suited to the role of Kaggia; quietly reflective, Lydiah Gitachu as his quietly introspective wife, Wambui, with serious but ditsy Yriimo Mwaura and Bruce Makau as the narrators/script-writers of a film on Kaggia. These two actors also play several other roles. Among these are Mwaura as Njoki, the Kaggias’ inquisitive young daughter and irritating journalist Michaela. Makau is cast as a brutal Turkana askari during Kaggia’s years of detention as well as former presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, to chilling effect. Although well-known to older Kenyans, Bildad Kaggia’s life trajectory may be less familiar to postIndependence generations. Kaggia was born into a dystopic world of European imperialism in 1932 in Murang’a (Fort Hall) to subsistence farmers. He grew up under Britain’s toxic system of colonial capitalism whose economy, ideology and social norms often, if inadvertently, turned ordinary men and women into monsters. ohn Sibi-Okumu takes on Kenya’s towering revolutionary Bildad Kaggia as the subject of his robust new activist play about em- MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 15-21,2014 As the same system was carried over into the post-Independence era, it produced the same kind of people. During Kenya’s anti-colonial struggle, Kaggia’s active part as a strategist in the resistance — the Mau Mau insurgency — led to his long incarceration alongside Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Achieng Oneko, Fred Kubai and Kungu Karumba. Sentenced together to hard labour in remote northern Kapenguria, Lodwar and Lokitaung outposts, these liberation leaders became known as the famous Kapenguria Six. After Independence, Kaggia served as a Member of Parliament but refused to join the new African scramble for land and self-aggrandisement. With his deeply embedded socialist convictions, turning on land for the landless, genuine care for the underserved and seductive oratorical skills, this popular leader might well have become Kenya’s second president. How does one undertake the ex- tremely difficult task of translating into theatre the existential dilemma of a principled individual finding himself in a rotten system? As Kaggia was with us until recently — he died in 2005 — a mountain of material exists on his life. Most germane is his own autobiography, Roots of Freedom. Although self-censored to suit the 1970s political climate, it is a vivid depiction of his remarkable life to 1963. A recently revised and extended version by his son, the late Mwanganu Kaggia, and Dutch historian W. de Leeuw, both recover excised material and take his thought-world to 2005. Those who knew Kaggia personally also made themselves available. Interviews with daughter Njoki Kaggia, chief executive of the Bildad M. Kaggia Foundation, and comrades in the struggle such as Maina Macharia who also remained steadfastly to the ideals of the Mau Mau and later trade union movements, corroborated facts and provided personal memories. Upright life In his Kaggia, Sibi-Okumu drama- tises these events, providing context and nuance to the man’s upright life that is played out in obvious contrast to the mental and moral impoverishment of the hungry hyenas of the political elite who surround him. Against deeply entrenched patriarchal values, Sibi-Okumu gives his subject a feminist focus. He anchors his Kaggia character in his relationship with his wife Wambui, the quintessential test of a man’s integrity. His singular devotion to her in a world where wife-beating in marriage is considered an inherent right, is the lodestone that sets him apart from most other men. In keeping with the playwright’s central feminist theme, the most moving passage in the play is Kaggia’s eulogy to Wambui, who died in 2000. Kaggia, now MP from Kandara, stands with his people. In an emotionally fraught, Pinteresque scene with Kenyatta, the latter has come to offer him 60 acres of land. He is informed that his Kapenguria Harry Ebale as Kaggia, with Lydia Gitachu who plays Wambui and Yriimo Mwaura as Njoki. Left: Njoki Kaggia, the chief executive of Kaggia Foundation. Pictures: Courtesy comrades have accepted large tracts of land and were now very rich. Kenyatta also informs him there is to be no free land for freedom fighters when they come in from the bush (despite all the sacrifices made, including having their own land seized.) In refusing a farm until, he says, his constituents are given the same, Kaggia earned the animus of the new political elite. For his stand on land, addressing the onerous income gap and other issues, several attempts were made on his life. Thugs invaded Kaggia’s home, beating him to within an inch of his life. Miraculously he also survived death by food-poisoning three times. Among the general public too, he had his detractors. While Kaggia’s admirers were legion, a sizeable group regarded him as a fool. In refusing to appropriate land for himself as the rest of the political elite had done, he died a poor man, his family suffering deprivation. Thus, they said, his high-mindedness had forced his wife to live in needless near-poverty and his four children to attend poorly equipped government schools rather than obtain quality education from the country’s elite, better-staffed private schools. Noting that “socialism is a state of mind,” Sibi-Okumu illuminates how Kaggia drew courage and inspiration from compassionate Christianity. His modus operandi was Kenya’s Independent Church Movement, within which the statesman even established his own church. With his “dream deferred,” as “thousands of acres ended up in the hands of a few individuals,” and viewing his former comrades as traitors to their collective ideals, he quit politics and made his living as a humble grain miller.
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