Despite his having passed away in 2012, Francis Imbuga cannot easily be referred to in the past tense. He was and still is a literary colossus whose contribution to Kenyan literature, performance, scholarship and education is immeasurable. Immortalised by his plays, poetry, novels and even his children’s story books, Prof Imbuga was an esteemed academic and guru who inspired countless students to love literature, writing and especially the stage.
Imbuga is undoubtedly best remembered for being a playwright, especially as his play Betrayal in the City (which represented Kenya in 1977 at FESTAC in Lagos) has just been reinstated as a set-book for schools. He also wrote plays like Aminata (commissioned to represent Kenya in 1985 at the UN International Women’s Conference in Nairobi), The Married Bachelor, The Successor and Man of Kafira. But Prof Imbuga was also a brilliant actor, director, producer and satirist whose scripts concealed gems of genius and insight not easily seen by the naked eye or the corrupt human beings who he consistently exposed in his writings. The Successor is one of Prof Imbuga’s most profound and politically-provocative plays.
It’s also one of his most important and timely scripts which is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it in 1978, the same year Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta died. The question of political succession was (and still is) such a hot topic that the play has rarely been produced since it was published in 1979 when Imbuga himself starred as Emperor Chonda.
Yet this is one reason to celebrate — and attend — today’s performance of The Successor at Kenyatta University’s Harambee Hall from 3pm. The play is produced by KU’s Department of Film and Theatre Arts, performed by KU students (including James Andare, Mark Maina and Lucy Oruta) and directed by department chairman Prof Emmanuel Shikuku.
The performance is meant to honour and commemorate Prof Imbuga. But it’s also meant to rouse Kenyans’ awareness of their incredibly creative theatrical tradition embodied in his writings.
What also makes his plays so fresh and timely is his mastery of the subtle yet slippery skill of satire: saying deep and disturbing things with such a light, witty touch that only the pure in heart and those with profound insight can appreciate the hidden depths of Prof Imbuga’s words.
Kudos to Prof Shikuku and his KU cast for bringing us back to appreciating one of Kenya’s greatest man of letters.