The first time I heard about a play being banned, it was during a staged monologue titled Fritz Lang showing at the Goethe institute. Set during Hitlers’ regime, the plot revolved around Fritz Lang,a playwright of Jewish descent who lived during Adolf Hitler’s time .Having just produced his best play ever , Lang’s career was at a rapid takeoff when he was summoned by the minister of propaganda in Hitler’s government and asked to write scripts that would be used to brainwash the citizens and promote the governments agenda. In his quest to get away, Lang confessed being Jewish, to which the minister simply answered ‘the government’ is the ones who decide who is or isn’t Jewish’. Choosing morality over fame and money, the playwright declined the offer. This led to his plays being banned from the theatre ,his life’s work crushed with a single blow and he found himself a refugee, fleeing a country he desperately loved.
The only other time I’ve heard of a play being banned was last Week, when I heard that the Butere Girls’ Play Shackles of Doom was termed too controversial and hence banned .
If I recall well, this year’s theme for the drama festival is ‘National Healing and Reconciliation and In Kenya, you can’t possibly tackle this topic without talking of issues like nepotism , corruption and greed which are the root causes of the division that necessitates healing.
Back to the play, it revolves around people in a land known as ‘Kanas’ who refer to themselves as ‘True Kanas.’ They live on a land rich with oil,. However, they aren’t aware of their riches down under in large oil deposit. Nonetheless , the neighboring community knows of this and so they offer a beautiful bride- wamaitha to a kana-ite in exchange for land where they settle.
Wamanitha’s community settles into that land and constructs an oil refinery company . This of course is seen as a silver cloud to the kana community who have lived their lives as nomads and fishermen; they now hope to get jobs in the new company . Sooner than later their hopes are drowned when the Human Resource of the new oil company announces the new employees. All the positions (except for the watchmen and manual workers ) are taken by the visiting community.
The kanas then discover that the piece of national caKe that they would have was but a very thin slice. In the fullness of time, profit from the oil company are siphoned off and the rather pitiful lot of kanas are left wondering what befell them.
Great story, right?
This is a story full of life lessons. Just like the timeless tale of ‘acres of diamonds’, the first lesson I draw from it is that we need to open our eyes and not be blind to the riches around us because if we don’t, a stranger will do so. This play also shows the foolishness of not having a vision.
To term such a play corrupt and full of nepotism is a rather shallow and unrealistic viewpoint especially to children living in a country where the political language used during campaigns is nothing short of oafish. Children who are governed by a group of individuals(forgive my not using the word leaders) who demand for salary increments before they even get to work and once they do, dream only of hefty sendoff packages.
I work in Baringo and every time I travel from Nakuru, I pass by worn out tents of IDP’s; a national report on state and public service jobs shows that most public service jobs are skewed in favour of certain communities : a political analyst, basing his judgment on tribes or what is Known as tyranny of numbers can most accurately predict the outcome of an election. And what’s more? In Baringo, oil has also been discovered. And just this week, stories have been going round of the young school girls who are now leaving school and giving birth to White Babies courtesy of the foreign oil drilling companies .
This school children watch the television every day. They read newspapers filled with findings like the one by the state and public jobs commission,
They listen to suggestive conversations by their parents but they cannot act a play depicting the same moral wrongs.
The novelist Ben Okri once argued that the decline of nations begins with the decline of its writers. “Because writers represent the unconscious vigour and fighting spirit of a land. Writers are the very sign of the psychic health of a people: they are the barometer of the vitality of the spirit of the nation.”
By mitigating its writers, a country only manages to live in a bliss of ignorance and denial. In Kenya, with the happenings in our politics; we surely are experiencing our richest moments historically. We are experiencing a functional judiciary system; A studded CJ; A youthful president and even an era of free laptops .
If we do not write now then when? If we do not speak now then when? Shall we, then wait by the by side or shall we set the trends and speak aloud?
I have listened to professors and award winning writers discuss , over lunch,why they need to get ‘this thing to our people’(politically). I have sat through a church youth session where a young adult from a leafy Nairobian neighbourhood confessed that her elite parents warned her against marrying people from a particular tribe or else she would end up poor. I have taught students who pick up their fathers first name because they do not want to be judged by their tribe.
For this peace and reconciliation thing to work, then we definitely need to be open and truthful about the depth and effects of the tribal vice in our country. We need to take this debate to our pulpits and classrooms (of course this requires the approval of the ministry of education).
We need KIE to get such plays as Shackles of Doom , published and approved for schools to replace Betrayal in the City , which is quite a good book but definitely overtaken by modern events. (Since we are experiencing totally new challenges and very few political prisoners if any). We need Shailja Patels’ political activist poems from Migrite like Shilling Love and Maasai Women Rioting replacing Rubadiri and Cooks’ Poems from East Africa.
Having ever met Cleophas Mallala, the Playwright in question, I can say two things of him; He doesn’t mince his words. He is quite a forthright and outspoken fellow and secondly, he is good at what he does. His plays pass off as witty, spiced with good humor and twists. And if we don’t endeavor to nurture such talents here then, like the renowned playwright of yester years Wenslaus Masinde, who has since moved to write and direct Nigerian Movies in Nollywood, we will lose all our promising playwrights.
From what I hear, Malala is ready to adjust the script to suit the agreeable standards and resolve the stalemate. But are the ministry officials ready to talk? Plus, we need to consider the poor Butere girl who put in endless hours of practice and hoped to bag the best actress award, and the resources put in by the school administration.
As I pack my bags and head down to the coast for the drama festivals, I can’t help but wonder whether I shall be bombarded by the creativity of the modern playwright or bored by what one of my writer friends call sickeningly enthusiastic plays that are more of boot licking than addressing the ugliness of the modern society we live in.