EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Oduor Jagero KOA ,2011 winner of the African Playwright Project: Interview by Gloria Mwaniga Minage

ODUOR Jagero, famously known as KOA is a young Kenyan man who recently scooped the 2011 playwright of the year award in the African Playwright Project organized by Royal National Theatre Studio in London; Teatr Nowy, Poland; Artscape, South Africa; and Arterial Network, South Africa.. His Musical Play ‘Makmende Vies for President’ emerged as the best play from over 300 scripts submitted from across Africa ,Gloria Mwaniga ,a freelance writer caught up with the young, enthusiastic photographer and writer just after he got back from his 10 day tour of the Royal National Theatre in London for this exclusive one on one interview.

G.M: Tell us about your life, growing up, schooling
KOA: I grew up in two places, Kisumu town and Nyando district, I attended Nyalunya Primary School and Olembo High School and later on moved to Nairobi where I joined the Nairobi Aviation College and undertook a course in Journalism and Broadcasting. I have also undertaken many different courses related to journalism, ethics and governance.
G.M: Could you tell us about your literary journey? Your beginning, where you are now, the future?
KOA: (smiling) I knew I was a good writer while still in high school. I wrote a love letter to an imaginary girlfriend and the senior boys stole it, made different copies and sent it out to different girl schools’, I don’t know whether they won the hearts of the fair ladies or not but the fact that the this letter was actually stolen was proof enough that my writing was quite good. Later on while in college, I wrote a poem that was published in the UK, in a book whose title I do not even know because I have never seen it.
After college, in 2006, I relocated to Rwanda and while there I wrote for the News line paper and also wrote articles for other local newspapers. After a year, I moved back to Kenya. I deliberately decide not to join the mainstream media because I wanted to be free to exploit my creativity to the maximum without restrictions.

I later set up my own Productions studio, Koa Media where I do consultancy on Photography and documentation of projects for NGO’s.
G.M: You recently won the African Playwright Project with your musical “Makmende Vies for president,” tell us about that:
KOA: Makmende vies for president is a play that was inspired by the life in Kenya. As a journalist, I see both sides of life; there is poverty which is deeply rooted and as old as mankind, yet there are hundreds of well funded NGO’s in Hurlinghum which are here to help people in the slums yet they have absolutely no idea about what is going on in the slums.
I had the play ready last year, however, when I approached most of the theatre houses in Nairobi to have it staged, they were either too reluctant because of the heavy theme explored in the play or too expensive. Lucky enough, I took it to a Dutch lady at Sarakasi Dome who after reading the script, went ahead and offered me the auditorium, lighting and sound for free. The turnout was fairly good and the reviews we got from some of the local papers were also good. Later on, my friends encouraged me to participate in the playwright project.
G.M: In the play, you speak of events that usually unfold in the Kenyan and to a larger extent, African political scene during elections; did you write this play with the 2012 elections in mind?
Yes because 2012 is an important year in Kenyan politics and I believe Kenya needs a young president.
But I am also afraid that many young people these days easily make up their minds by simply eating chips and burgers and drinking booze instead of exercising their bodies. (Laughs at the expression on my face) Like Pablo, the young man in the play who, after campaigning for a politician says that all he wants when the elections are won is a contract to make the roads and another one to repair them once they get potholes.
G.M: It is said that writers are prophets of the future, do you believe that Kenya is ready for a young president, a Makmende, per say?
KOA: Yes I believe Kenya is ready, the question is, where is the young person to be voted in? Kenyans are tired of ceremonial presidents who want to lead the whole country when their own backyards are looming with extreme poverty, lack of food and bad roads.
G.M: This year you also produced and staged two other musicals, Why the fascination with musicals?
KOA: Music tells a story in a very intimate and emotional way, sing to a man and he will sleep even if he doesn’t understand what you are saying. Though I have to add that musicals are quite expensive to stage.
G.M: Do you plan to have Makmende in the theatres again because I sure would love to see it acted out.
KOA: Yes we are hoping to have it staged again mid next year that is, if we are able to get enough funding to stage it. Right now, we are on a mission to get sponsors for the play.
G.M: Do you believe that as a writer, you have a political role to play?
KOA: Yes I do, but what I need is a platform for the same.
G.M: What kind of writer do you classify yourself as?
KOA: I am just a writer, not an African write though; you can call me a secureligious (secular and religious) writer.
G.M: Do you have any projects running now? What should we expect from you in the coming years?
KOA: I am currently working on another play that is heavily social yet deeply emotional.
I am also planning to set up a writer’s lab that will mentor and teach people interested in playwriting and poetry.
G.M: How important is humor, language and style in your work?
KOA: I use humor as a carrier of my message not as the message itself. I am also very personal in my writing, I write about things I have seen happen around me.
In most of my writing, you will find out that I break grammar, and also use incomplete sentences. I deliberately do this so as to keep the language clear for my audience because I want them to feel like I am talking to them as opposed to writing to them.
I break the rules because I understand them so writers should be careful not to break the rules of writing unless they understand them well first.
G.M: Who is your favorite author?
KOA: Laurence Sanders because his books are so smartly written that you can never second guess him no matter how many times you read his work.
I also like Dan Brown because of his suspense and the boldness towards writing on issues that are considered controversial. Besides, I read lots of autobiographies, Charles Dickens books and a handful of books by African writers.
G.M: How have other people’s works influenced your writing?
KOA: Positively. I am made by what I read and both the Bible and other books have helped me learn creativity, vivid descriptions and interaction with the reader.
G.M: what else do you do besides writing?
KOA: I am a fulltime writer and professional photographer at KOA media. Besides this, I am planning to marry (laughs loudly.)
G.M; so does writing pay or do you have to juggle it with other jobs?
KOA; It caters for all my bills so I believe it pays.
G.M: There is a condition encountered by writers known as writers block, how do you handle it?
KOA; I do not experience writers block; I am just a writer who gets tired, rests and is up and writing again.
G.M: where do you get inspiration?
KOA: From Streets and Crossroads of life like relationships and jobs.
G.M: What in your opinion is the future of drama poetry and theatre in general in Kenya?
KOA: There is a future, I just don’t know how gloomy or bright.
It will all depend on if we get enough NGO’s and other organizations to support theatre in the coming days.

About KOA.
He is a stringer, a playwright and poet who is also the founding director of KOA media, a company that is involved in consulting script writing, photography and documentation for NGO’s.Koa is also the brain behind a monthly poetry event ‘Poetry spot’ that happens every second Friday of the month at All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi.
His play ‘Makmende Vies for President’ which won the 2011 Africa Playwright of the year was staged in his honor, at the Royal National Theatre in London with over 30 actors and actresses directed by the famous Anna Coombs, Artistic Director of Tangle, an international theatre company celebrating, championing and integrating the work of African theatre artists in the UK and beyond.
He recently signed a contract with the Royal National theater that will see ‘Makmende Vies for President’ turned into a fully acted play for the public at the theater.
Some of the plays he has written include;
In Harms Way; Alibi, Eyes of the Rock; Confessions of a Harlot; Color of God 1 & 2, Makmende Vies for President and several skits.

‘Drop from the race. Cite anything, we trust your judgment. Then we can…we can have you head Finance Ministry, post your fiancé’s sisters and brothers to missions abroad, we can have an MOU, you know have Makmende Tosha next elections. Everybody for himself and God for us only. {Stretching his hands for a handshake} We got a deal.
Excerpt from Makmende Vies for President’


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