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Kaggia play tells independence story through freedom fighter's eyes

By George Orido | Nov 3rd 2014 | 4 min read

NAIROBI, KENYA: A heavily-built greying old man walks off stage with a stoop indicating someone who has borne it all for his country.

His latest cross is the death of his loving wife Wambui who has stood with him in plenty and in want, in happiness and in sadness.

The eulogy he has just delivered in a heavy voice at the graveyard, is moving, full of nostalgia but also heavy on the struggle and persecution that defined the lives of the two lovebirds.

"She suffered blows because of me at her father's hands in my absence. Once we were married, she suffered blows because of me when my political foes sent their lackeys to try to kill me. She was persecuted and even imprisoned for being associated with me," he says, tears drenching his chubby cheeks like a stream of water oozing from the base of a mountainous rock.

At this time, the packed Phoenix Theatre off Parliament Road is gripped in a sombre mood as the audience, including his daughter Njoki, can no longer hold in the tears with some sobbing loudly as they watch Harry Ebale immersed in the role of Bildad Kaggia in John Sibi Okumu's new play Kaggia.


The play depicts a man who offered all his life to his nation but who became a victim of betrayal by compatriots and a new African leadership too preoccupied with sleaze, squandering a lifetime opportunity to change the lives of the people they led.

"What are we saying, Kenyatta? Are we now to recognise our colonial masters? How can we buy land from the thieves who stole it from us in the first place?" asks a shocked assistant minister Kaggia immediately Kenya attained independence.

After all the independence struggle, with hundreds of thousands losing their lives, the founding father of the nation, instead of declaring crown land ready for redistribution to the landless, Jomo Kenyatta was not only going to buy it with public funds but also sell it to any willing buyer.

"But that is not what we were fighting for. We fought for the land that was grabbed from us to be shared equitably, among our people. The willing buyers will be privileged few who have the money to buy. The ordinary people have no money," retorts a soft-spoken and reflective Kaggia.

Together with Kenyatta, Achieng' Oneko, Kung'u Karumba, Paul Ngei and Fred Kubai they were inmates at Kapenguria prison during the emergency period declared by the colonial government in 1952.

But Kenyatta, played by Bruce Makau, in a cowboy hat and a flywhisk in hand looking straight into Kaggia's eyes is adamant, "So, Kaggia you are advocating for free things?"

Kenyatta goes on to castigate his compatriot on how he is a good-for-nothing man who could not capitalise on his position to amass wealth for himself.

With this exchange, John Sibi Okumu who last year penned award winning play Elements, takes us back to the root cause of the current land quagmire that has bedevilled the nation almost tearing it apart.

Fresh on Kenyans' mind are the recent Mpeketoni attacks where tens were killed and hundreds displaced leading to the revocation of 20 titles of 500,000 acres in Lamu.

Its prelude was the 2007 post-elections violence where about 1,300 Kenyans lost their lives with reports showing serious land injustices as the major trigger to the violence, including in the yet to be implemented Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission and the Ndung'u Land Commission reports.

The theme of land grabbing and public disenfranchisement is major in Kaggia and gives an up and close encounter with the national leadership psyche during the first years of independence as buttressed in such books as Not Yet Uhuru by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga with whom Kaggia formed the first opposition party Kenya Peoples Union (KPU).

In the play, Kenyatta goes ahead to detain Kaggia and humiliate him by making him sweep the streets clad in prisons uniform.

Education is another theme central to this story where the rich access the British system of education or other facilities for the elite while the poor only access the very basic the system can provide.


This is particularly articulated in the conversation between two young filmmakers Stacey (Yrimo Mwaura) and Xan (Bruce Makau) when in their endeavour to come up with a film storyline. They learn of Kaggia's choice of taking his children to an ordinary local school in Murang'a when he could have taken them to a more prestigious one.

"Kaggia could have sent his children to Duke of York, The Prince of Wales or St Mary's. They could have become true 'gentlemen' with a taste of rubharb crumble and custard and love of rugby and cricket," says Stacey, implying they had inferior education.

And Kaggia's wife Wambui (Lydiah Gitachu) epitomises the struggles and triumphs of the woman in pre- and post-independent Kenya amid cultural stereotypes and denial of rights.

In an interview with the team that is putting together a film on her husband, she warmly takes the  audience through what defined the woman in earlier days.

"When I was growing up, we were taught to work hard and serve others. There was water and firewood to be fetched. There was land to be cultivated. There was livestock to be herded. There were homes to be built and it was done by women and girls," she recalls in fashion that proves that Mr Okumu's concern for the female-folk and their rights it at the heart of his writings.

The playwright also disabuses the audience of the notion that it is only the Mau Mau who fought for independence and that it was only Central Kenya that was affected by colonial occupation.

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