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Curtains fall on playwright Imbuga

Monday November 19 2012

Francis Imbuga holding two of the books he wrote, during a recent interview at his Nairobi home on November 05, 2012.

The late Prof Francis Imbuga holding two of the books he wrote during an interview at his Nairobi home on November 5, 2012. Photo|FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Benjamin Muindi, Julius Sigei

Renowned playwright and university don, Prof Francis Imbuga, is dead.

Prof Imbuga died on Sunday night after suffering a stroke in his house in Nairobi.

Kenyatta University vice chancellor Prof Olive Mugenda said the 65-year-old author suffered a stroke at around 8pm in his Kahawa Sukari home.

His family rushed him to the nearby KU dispensary where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The scholar and thespian has taught at KU for more three decades with a brief stint at the faculty of arts and social sciences Kigali Institute of Education.

The death comes at a time his popular play, 'Betrayal in the City’ had just been re-selected as a literature set book for secondary schools.

It is the fourth time the book, which paints the picture of a repressive leadership in modern Africa, will be studied since it was published in 1988.

Another play he penned, 'Aminata’, has also been studied as a literature set book.

Prof Imbuga’s works have a central message tied along modern and traditional societies and the differences in their value systems.

They also bear a criticism of the ruling regimes in modern African states.

His other titles like 'A Man of Kafira’, and it’s sequel 'The Green Cross of Kafira’ examine the relationship between the church and the nation.

In an interview with the Saturday Nation about a fortnight ago, Prof Imbuga said he had hoped his new play 'The Return of Mgofu’ would have been selected instead of 'Betrayal in the City.’

The play eaxmines ethnic animosity and intolerance in African societies and drew inspiration from the post-election violence that rocked Kenya after the 2007 polls.

Until his death Prof Imbuga was the director, Quality Assurance at Kenyatta University.

He had also served as the chairman of the University’s literature department and the dean at the faculty of arts.

Prof Mugenda said she was saddened by the death of Prof Imbuga: “I have known Prof Imbuga since he started teaching at the university in 1978. He was a friend and a pleasant individual who did his work with commitment and dedication.”

“He supported my work at the university and was always ready to take up assignments wherever I called upon him. Consequently, he chaired many senate committees and headed the directorate of quality assurance for many years.”

The VC noted that Prof Imbuga’s name shall remain a household name in the University and in the literary circles.

Kenya Publishers Association chairman Lawrence Njagi said the book industry had suffered a big blow following the death of the don.

Mr Njagi said Prof Imbuga not only wrote creative works but also taught budding writers how to go about the art.

“Prof Imbuga was instrumental in the development of creative writing in the country. He has left a gap that will not be easy to fill.”

He noted that Prof Imbuga wrote without considering the financial gains that are to be accrued from the venture.

His deputy Simon Sossion said: “It is a very sad day indeed for the Kenyan literary, teaching and publishing fraternity. A great man from whose mind and pen the Kenyan society tapped the unending foundation of incisive social criticism – in most cases potent with humour and sarcasm has fallen.”

Although writing books in Kenya is not a lucrative venture, a writer earns well if his book has been selected as a literature set book in secondary schools.

Besides an initial agreed amount paid to the writer by the publisher of the book, he also earns royalties of 10 per cent for every book that has been sold.

“He was one of Africa’s foremost playwrights. He was a playwright, actor and teachers par excellence. He will be remembered by present and future generations especially scholars, examiners and writers for his artistic,” chief editor Africawide Network James Shimanyula said.

“His use of English language was spiced with new idioms, fascinating images featured in his plays portrayed Imbuga as a rare, rather irreplaceable writer,” Mr Shimanyula.

Mr Shimanyula published Prof Imbuga’s novel 'Miracle of Remera’.