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Kenyans hail icon as show premieres

By George Orido | Nov 3rd 2014 | 3 min read
Harry Ebale (right) as Bildad Kaggia and Lydiah Gitachu (Left as) wambui, Kaggia's wife in a new play Kaggia by John Sibi Okumu at the Phoenix Players Theatre last Friday. The play opened to a full house and depicts the political struggle and post independence public affairs of Kenya . PHOTO: COURTESY

NAIROBI, KENYA: Friday night was a night like no other in the heart of Kenya's capital. Men and women donning their evening wear flocked the Professional Centre turning downwards towards the basement's intimate Phoenix Players Theatre.

They had an appetite to watch a play by one of Kenya's most prominent freedom fighters.

When the bell rang, the National Anthem was played to a standing audience as the lights dimmed and brightened on stage to create a sense of two scenes. And there it was: John Sibi Okumu's new play Kaggia directed by Nick Njache.

Bildad Kaggia's daughter Njoki sat pensively among the audience. "That is my father. Yes it is him," Njoki said loud enough for all to hear, having been taken away by what she termed the superb portrayal of the character by actor Harry Ebale.

By the time the play gets into Njoki's mother's funeral scene, tears are flowing freely amid audible sobs and as the curtains come down, the show gets a standing ovation.

"I was moved by the story because Kaggia represents the Constitution – his aspiration and his beliefs are what the Constitution demands," observed Senior Counsel Pheroze Nowrojee. Mr Nowrojee's wife, who had met Kaggia several times, said Ebale was in his element making no mistake in his portrayal. "You were so real. I saw him in you," she complimented as she shook Ebale's hand after the show.


Constitutional lawyer Yash Pal Ghai was so impressed that he recommended the play take a tour around the country for Kenyans to watch and share a pie of Kenya's history. "I think we need to have more of these educative plays so that the younger generation can keep tabs on the history of their country," he said.

Mr Okumu said he looked at all the Kapenguria Six members and after reading Kaggia's autobiography, The Struggle for Freedom for Justice, he had no iota of doubt that Kaggia was the rock upon which to tell the story of the country's dream.

"When he was rigged out of elections in 1974 and had his votes dumped in a river, he quit politics altogether; when someone attempted to poison him in Parliament, he stopped eating in hotels and could only drink milk through a straw and he was a teetotaller who vowed never to beat his wife," Okumu spoke of Kaggia.

Mr Ebale said while carrying out research he watched past national holiday documentaries to learn more on his character. "I feel privileged and honoured with the distinguished responsibility to act as this larger-than-life figure of our society," said Ebale, who agreed it was a challenge because Kaggia was easy to relate to and any misrepresentation would be detected.

The Phoenix Players General Manager David Opondoe was all smiles as he announced the play would indeed travel to Kisumu, Mombasa and Nakuru immediately after the run in Nairobi on November 16.

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