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Theatre for development possibilities in Kisumu

By | July 23rd 2011

By George Orido

It is a warm Saturday afternoon and artistes attending a Civil Peace Service workshop on theatre are rearing to go, with their performances at the Jomo Kenyatta Sports Ground in Kisumu.

There is an air of urgency as they put last-minute details before the performances begin.

Justin Banzim of Diocese of Yambio, South Sudan, is directing the group on the peace dance with the rest of the pack following the easy routine. Kamau wa Ndung’u of Safe Theatre announces the departure from Kilimani to the venue.

"Today we are welcoming all of you to the city square for an evening of entertainment, education, discussion and fun," he says, as the convoy of five vehicles snakes into the central business district of the lakeside city.

Actors from one of the theatre troupes that were in Kisumu recently in action. Both international and local actors held a workshop in Kisumu to formulate how theatre can be used to aid development and eliminate social ills. [PHOTOS: GEORGE ORIDO/STANDARD]

The venue is teeming with activities, including a volleyball tournament on the other side of the ‘Aguch Jokanam’ public park where loud Ohangla music can be heard. In the inside perimeter covered with lush green lawns people are in a buoyant mood. Others are taking an afternoon nap under the century old jacaranda trees, while some are speaking in hushed tones. Suddenly there appears this larger than life female puppet; dancing with so much gusto it could have put an energiser bunny to shame.

She is in the middle of the congregation that is now dancing to the tune of Aoko, originally by US based Jabali Afrika. Only this time round the Betta Theatrix team of Benhard Sigunga, Moses Onyango and Duncan Ochieng’ has risen to a faster beat and the dancing is vigorous. The Rwandans too, join in, and so do the Ugandans. In no time the group of about 50 artistes is attracting lots of attention. As they move to settle with more dances and music at the northern entrance of the park a huge crowd is already waiting in anticipation. Then the performance begins.

Mayor’s response

The group is staging a 10-minute play on the standoff between boda boda operators and council officers – the latter have vowed not to let the operators within the CBD. Further dilemma is created when the matatu operators react to the low fares charged by cycle and Tuk Tuk operators.

"Why are they charging Sh15, yet the fare is Sh50?" asks a matatu operator who confronts a boda boda operator whose low charge is luring more passengers.

A fight ensues as council askaris arrive armed with batons and they confiscate the motorcycle. They also arrest the matatu operator for encroaching on a prohibited zone. At this juncture the facilitator, Philister Wanyande from Kisumu Repertory Theatre freezes the play as she poses a question to the audience of about 250 people. "Was it okay for the council askaris to arrest the transport operators?"

"This is not right. There are more passengers in the heart of the city. What’s more, passengers would like to be dropped at the doorstep of their offices," responds one of the women with a baby strapped to her back.

A man in his mid 20s asks to respond as well. He says he is a boda boda operator and unless he goes further downtown, especially to Oginga Odinga Street, he spends the whole day without doing much business. That is why he risks venturing there all the time, despite the ban. But another person from the audience disagrees. "We need to have boda boda’s kept off the city. A number of them do not have driving licenses and they cause so much chaos.

"So what should be done to solve this problem before it escalates?

"The Mayor should first tell us why he chases us away yet there are no jobs here," says a lad who has just spotted the Kisumu Mayor Sam Otieno arrive in the company of German Ambassador to Kenya Margit Hewlett.

The facilitator is not sure whether to allow His Worship to be addressed by the agitated crowd.

But the gathering is fired, "Let the mayor answer that himself." The mayor responds by saying the council is making efforts to make the city orderly.

To pacify the now agitated crowd he explains that when this happens, investors are bound to choose Kisumu as their preferred investment destination.

Inter-ethnic dialogue

"This way we will have more factories and businesses, creating employment," he says. He further explains that the money they collect from hawkers and other traders goes into funding social services provided by the council.

Answering a question posed from Kisumu art fraternity over the lack of a theatre in the city, he promises to get one for them if a structured proposal is presented to him. "Kisumu is known to produce the best artistes in Kenya," he acknowledges, saying the council will support initiatives geared towards job creation for the youth.

In addition, the German Ambassador promised to work with the council to fulfil their purpose. "We are a friend of Kisumu and we are ready to support you in your endeavours," announces Margit, who said the Embassy would be sponsoring the Kisumu Peace festival next month.

Indeed, the lakeside city will host a peace festival between August 5 and 7 at Jomo Kenyatta Grounds. "Dialogue and communication between diverse inter-religious leaders, inter-ethnic dialogue with the youth of Kisumu and inter-district dialogue will be held during the days of the event combined with diverse workshops open for everyone. Of course, sports and music will also be on the agenda," explains Ambassador Margit, whose country recently promised financial support to Kenya for the General Election.

"The theatre workshop bringing together peace workers in the region is meant to consolidate and share experiences," explained Verena de la Rey Swardt, a consultant at Civil Peace Service.

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