20 November 2012

Kenya: Tribute to Playwright Francis Imbuga

His name is almost synonymous with Betrayal in the City - a play that is said to epitomize the failures of many, if not all, African governments. He penned many other works too - Aminata, Miracle of Remera, The Return of Mgofu and Shrine of Tears - but many remember him for his first plays taught as set books in many Kenyan secondary schools.

His passing on Sunday night, from a stroke, was met with divergent reactions with many lauding his works as creative but nonetheless fundamentally in touch with the spirit of the times where the problems of post-colonial Africa states unravel through character depictions quite similar to real life African characters.

Tom Odhiambo, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi says, "I may not have agreed with the way he approached some of his subjects but in as far as playwrights go, no other Kenyan playwright writing in English measures up to him."

Contemporary professionals, weaned on his plays in high school, yesterday took to social media to express their condolences, among them Peter Opondo, Citizen TV news editor. He tweeted: "Sad to hear of Prof #FrancisImbuga's death! I didn't know him personally, but his books thrilled/shaped our minds in high school!"

Many others tweeted quotes from his works - "When the madness of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say that the man is mad", read one tweet by Mugumo Munene from Betrayal in the City. Perhaps more emotive was the "green grass in the snake" quote tweeted and retweeted by many others.

Kinyanjui Kombani, author of 'The Last Villains of Molo' on his Facebook page posted "I am saddened to hear about the passing on Prof Francis Imbuga. Only last week, he was praising my work, and I was planning to meet him this week."

Thus, echoing the profound words of one of the characters in Betrayal in the City, another tweet read: "It was better while we waited. Now we have nothing to look forward to. We have killed our past and are busy killing our future."

Other topics explored in Imbuga's works and still prevalent in contemporary society touch on tribalism, corruption, repressive leadership, impunity and bad policies.

At the time of his death, Imbuga served as quality assurance director at Kenyatta University as well as the dean, at the Faculty of Arts. He was also the dean, Faculty of Arts at Kigali Institute of Education. His awards include the Kenya National Academy of Sciences Distinguished Professional Award in Play Writing.

Colleagues at Kenyatta University, where Prof Imbuga taught, said that 65-year-old author suffered a stroke about 8pm Sunday night at his home in Kahawa Sukari. Family members rushed him for treatment at the KU dispensary but was pronounced dead on arrival.

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