Kelvin Manda is a clever playwright, especially in his way of employing history as the context for exposing Kenya’s conservative colonial and post-colonial political scene.
It looks like that is one thing he wanted to achieve by writing Kipande for Liquid Arts theatre company, which just produced it last weekend at Kenya Cultural Centre.
We only saw part I of the play, with part 2 scheduled for production just before the national elections in August. Manda and the show’s director Peter Tosh are not shy about stating the play is meant to convey a message to voters. It is to watch out and consider carefully who you vote for.
In the play, there are two candidates running for one mayoral position. Both have their strengths and weaknesses but neither one seems to have the public’s interests at heart.
Chupa (Steve Otieno) seems to be the cleaner candidate. He calls upon his audience to come together as one. It sounds good but then he invites them to donate to his worthy message. They have already been tainted by previous politicians who have always been prepared to hand out either cash or commodities for their votes.
When Chupa offers nothing of the sort, one can’t really tell if he is clean and above the corrupting influence of bribing voters or if he simply is broke and not able to pay them for their votes. The one thing we know is that he wants that position of power, and so does his assistant Sophia (Shirley Mumia).
The other candidate is the flamboyant Madam Mapesa (Veronica Mwangi) whose motto slapped onto her poster is “Steal and get rich”. The motto reveals the lack of subtlety that one sees in much of the play.
Madam Mapesa is a caricature of the greedy, flagrantly thieving politician who runs for office, knowing she or he can obtain success simply by spending a few shillings on every voter. She is also a fast talker and makes big promises.
When she has one critic who calls her out on her lack of follow-through on promises made the last time she got voted into office, that critic gets muzzled and tossed out of the rally. Nobody comes to the critic’s defense because the rest of them expect to get their pay at the end of the rally.
But the Madam knows how to get around paying up. She makes promises, then sends her man into the crowd to take down names and contacts of those who expect to receive something bankable from the Madam.
“What I do is just disappear for a time until they’ve forgotten that promise,” she tells her sidekick.
How we come to see that Chupa is no better than Mapese is when Claudette (Maria Beja Mutave) shows up and reminds him publicly of what he did for her in the past. What that was isn’t clear but at least we know it wasn’t clean, wasn’t straightforward.
Sophia is dismayed at the arrival of the flashy Claudette even though she isn’t Chupa’s wife, only his aid. She gets even more distraught when Chupa gets attacked by an angry mob who come to beat him bloody and apparently bump him off.
When the election results are read by the Kipande Town Clerk (Esther Wairimu Makanga), she has also been compromised, first by the Madam and then by Claudette. She reveals the Madam won 11,000 plus votes while Sophia, who has apparently stood in for the dead Chupa, won with 13,000 plus votes.
It's an upset that no one understands until Claudette comes forward and reminds Sophia there are only 15,000 votes in Kipande. So where did all those other votes come from? Obviously, somebody stuffed the ballot box.
Then just before the play ends, Chupa emerges having faked his death to now working with Claudette behind the scenes to get the power he had always sought.
Between every scene of Kipande, there is a progressive portion of Kenyan history starting with the arrival of the Portuguese all the way up to the attainment of Independence in 1963.
The implication may be that politics has changed very little since those early wars between the Portuguese and Omari Arabs, both of whom had no love for the Kenyan people. They were only after power that the land and people could provide.
Kipande seems to be asking if our upcoming elections could be different by bringing a radical change? Chances are unlikely.