By Henry Munene
Slightly more than a year since he took his final bow, Francis Imbuga has breached the confines of the hereafter, on a successful mission to sneak us yet another powerful play on dictatorship and bad governance.
Dripping with the theme of political hypocrisy, The Green Cross of Kafira, published posthumously by Bookmark Africa, is the last in a trilogy of Kafira plays that started with Betrayal in the City (1975), followed by Man of Kafira, first staged in 1979. Imbuga seems to be following in the trilogy motif of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe, who wrote their first three novels in a manner that Ngugi tells us was aimed at tracking Achebe’s ‘Moving history of Africa’ across generations.
However, unlike Betrayal in the City and Man of Kafira, which employed circumlocution and subtle satire to drive home the author’s stinging commentary on bad leadership in Kafira (or Afrika, if you rearrange the letters in ‘Kafira’), The Green Cross of Kafira has no qualms about presenting images that call to mind modern-day Kenya. This boldness can, perhaps, be attributed to the fairly expanded freedoms, courtesy of which, authors need not look over their shoulders like they used to in the 1970s.
To drive the plot, Imbuga, himself an accomplished thespian who burst onto the literary scene through a leading role in Joe De Graft’s Muntu, relies on a narrator called Sikia Macho.
Through this narrator, we are introduced to two State wheeler-dealers, Mwodi and Yuda, who do dirty jobs for the Chief of Chiefs. It is through the two operatives that the paranoia of the State is brought to the fore.
When the play opens, they are on a spying mission that is supposed to be so covert, it must be carried out in the absence of their personal assistants, drivers and even bodyguards.
It turns out that the top-secret mission targets harmless clerics and ‘rejects’, who are behind bars on trumped-up charges. The State accuses the ‘lunatics’ of incitement and other subversive crimes. However, it turns out that the ‘lunatics’ are the voice of reason that the State has terrorised to mental instability.
The ‘rejects’ strike the reader as stock characters representing university students, lecturers, conservationists, the church, trade unions and other activists that the State is keen on compromising by dangling the carrot of Cabinet posts, or through detention without trial.
Also unlike the first two books in the trilogy, The Green Cross of Kafira takes us into a new regime headed by former dissidents, perhaps as Imbuga’s way of seeking to highlight the pitfalls that may lead seemingly progressive regimes to slide back to the bad old ways. To this end, the author employs various strategies to show that, in implementing reforms, basic wisdom and common sense are more important than high-sounding theories and policy papers.
The play is divided into two acts, with the first one having three scenes and the second one four. Every scene comes with a sub-heading.
The first scene of Act One is titled ‘Mind Games’, and calls to mind ‘Battle of Wits’ in Imbuga’s Aminata, a play on women’s rights. This flair for creating intertextual similarities is also seen in the presence of clownish characters in virtually all his works, including this one, and heavily borrowing from African images and sayings.
This is topped of with Imbuga’s unbeatable knack for satirical humour. Talking of humour, the satirical tone of The Green Cross of Kafira is brought out masterfully through Mwodi and Yuda’s hypocrisy in defending the regime of the Chief of Chiefs, which borders on the ridiculous. They even accuse one detainee of masterminding a prison mutiny when he was being held at another jail.
Following in the tradition of what John Ruganda calls Telling the Truth Laughingly, the State is depicted as so paranoid that Adema’s book cannot win an award because the judges, who have not even read the book, are not amused that it explores the theme of political succession, which is next to taboo in Kafira.
Dedicated to the late conservationist Wangari Maathai, the play comes with an introduction by Roger Kurtz, the author of Nyarloka’s Gift, which is based on the life and works of Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye.
Kurtz is a Tanzanian and a professor of English at the State University of New York at Brockport.