Instead of banning this play, let us study it in classr0oms

Saturday April 20 2013

The first time I heard about a play being banned, it was during a staged monologue titled, Fritz Lang, showing at the Goethe institute. Set during Hitler’s regime, the plot revolved around Fritz Lang, a playwright of Jewish descent.

Having just produced his best play ever, Lang was summoned by the minister of propaganda and asked to write scripts to brainwash the citizens. In his quest to get away, Lang confessed to being Jewish, to which the minister simply answered ‘the government is the one that decides who is or isn’t Jewish’.

Choosing morality over fame and money, the playwright declined the offer. This led to his plays being banned and he found himself a refugee.

Too controversial

The only other time I had heard of a play being banned was last week, when the Butere Girls’ play Shackles of Doom was termed too controversial and hence banned.

This year’s theme for the drama festival is ‘National Healing and Reconciliation.’ In Kenya, you can’t possibly tackle this topic without talking of nepotism, corruption and greed.

The play revolves around people in a land known as ‘Kanas,’ who refer to themselves as ‘True Kanas.’ They live on an oil-rich land. However, they aren’t aware of their riches.

Nonetheless, the neighbouring community knows it, and so they offer a beautiful bride, Wamaitha, to a Kana-ite in exchange for land, where they settle.

Wamaitha’s community then puts up an oil company. The Kana community, who live as nomads and fishermen, hope to get jobs in the new firm, but their hopes are dashed when the company announces the new employees.

All the positions (except for the watchmen and manual workers) are taken by the visiting community. The Kanas discover that the piece of national cake they would have was but a very thin slice.

Need not be blind

In the fullness of time, profit from the oil company is siphoned off and the Kanas are left wondering what befell them.

Great story, right? A story full of life’s lessons. The first lesson I draw from it is that we need not be blind to the riches around us. To term such a play full of nepotism is rather shallow.

I work in Baringo and every time I travel from Nakuru, I pass by worn out tents of IDP’s; a national report on state and public service jobs shows that most public service jobs are skewed in favour of certain communities.

A political analyst basing his judgment on tribes or what is known as ‘the tyranny of numbers’ can most accurately predict the outcome of an election. And what’s more? In Baringo, oil has also been discovered.

Just this week, we’ve heard of young schoolgirls who are now leaving school to give birth, courtesy of the foreign oil drilling companies. These school children watch TV and read newspapers. They listen to suggestive conversations by their parents.

Novelist Ben Okri once argued that the decline of nations begins with the decline of its writers. In Kenya, we are experiencing our richest moments in history: a functional Judiciary; a studded CJ; a youthful President and even an era of free laptops.

If we do not write now, then when? If we do not speak now then when? Shall we, then wait by the side or shall we set the trends and speak aloud?

I’ve listened to professors and award-winning writers discuss why they need to get ‘this thing to our people’ (politically). I’ve sat through a church youth session where a young adult from a leafy Nairobian neighbourhood confessed that her elite parents warned her against marrying people from a particular tribe. I’ve taught students who use their fathers’ first names so as not to be judged by their tribe.

Pulpits and classrooms
For peace and reconciliation to work in Kenya, we need to be open and truthful about the effects of the tribal vice. We need to take this debate to our pulpits and classrooms.

We need KIE to get such plays as Shackles of Doom, published and approved for schools, to replace Betrayal in the City, which has been overtaken by modern events.

The writer is a teacher