11.1 East African Poetry & Drama: Do you know the prominent East African Political Dramas?

Chapter 11

Political Drama in East Africa

11.1 Summarise the political events in Kenya that led to the writing of The Successor


Since independence the East African region has had a tumultuous political situations ranging from revolts to military takeovers.  Many innocent people have suffered in that process.  Political developments have been varied in the three countries with Tanzania enjoying relative stability under Julius Nyerere its president while Uganda bearing the brunt of political instability characterized by military takeovers and coups.  Kenya had its share of instability although it was not on a large scale as that of Uganda. This lesson seeks to capture some of the most volatile political contexts in East Africa and how East African playwrights have creatively captured these political times in there plays. We shall look at texts by two most prolific political literary writers of East Africa, John Ruganda and Francis Imbuga. For purposes of our analysis, we shall only look at one play from each playwright.



After independence, Kenya became a multiparty independent country with two major parties i.e. Kenya African National Union (KANU) and Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU).  KADU voluntarily stepped down in favour of one partism.  Hence Kenya became one party state.  KANU ruled under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta until 1973 when he died.  But just before he died, his close political allies got so concerned because the constitution demanded that in the case where a president dies, his vice-president succeeds him.  The president’s allies were so tribal in thinking that they wanted a fellow tribesman of the president to take over in the event of his death.  They didn’t want the vice-president who was from a different tribe to automatically succeed Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.  These politicians labelled the Kiambu Mafia sponsored a lobby group under the aegis of Change the Constitution which was agitating for the overhaul of the constitutional cause that mandated the vice-president to take over the reins of rulership in the event that the president died.  They wanted it to be changed so that anybody else could be selected from the Executive cabinet to vie for that seat[1]


However their efforts were defeated when the then Kenyan Attorney General Charles Njonjo advised the president against such a move saying that the citizens will accuse the president of tribalism and discrimination.  The president died on 22nd August 1978 before the strife had been fully settled and his vice-president Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi took over as the acting president.  After three months an election was held and he won with a landslide hence becoming the second president of Kenya.  He was to rule until 2002 when the people revolted against his chosen heir, Kenyatta’s son Uhuru, and opted for Mwai Kibaki.

The events that led to the succession battle just before the death of Kenyatta in 1978 might as well have shaped Imbuga’s mind in creating The Successor.  This is a story of machinations and political manoeuvres that an individual engages in order to take over the reins of political leadership.  Parallels can be drawn between the real events in Kenya and the creative world in The Successor.  Other critics have argued that the events in Central African Republic in which Denis Bokassa overthrew the government to become the president might have shaped Imbuga’s thinking in creating The Successor.

11.1.1 Analyse the texts The Successor


As has been hinted on earlier in this Chapter, the setting of this text can better be understood if one has at hand the political historical events of Kenya especially around 1976. at around this time, a few individuals in and around the government formed what was then called change the constitution group and their aim was to block certain individuals from ascending to power should the president die or be incapacitated. As the tempestuous debate over who should succeed the aging president raged on, Imbuga made his contribution by artistically recreating these prevalent politics of intrigue and chicanery in a play The Successor. This play was performed for the first time in May 1979 by the University players, nine months after the then president Jomo Kenyatta had died. Imbuga conceals the link between the Kenyan politics and his play so much to the extent that it is only a keen reader who can unravel that the society in the text is a reflection of the wider Kenyan society. Compared to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s I will Marry when I Want, The Successor is a concealed version of what was and what is happening in the society. Generally, Imbuga’s creative texts are transparently hidden responses to the major upheavals and the teething problems in Kenya and African at large. (Ruganda 1989). There are those who have seen Masero as a reflection of Central African Republic under Bokassa’s regime.


Summarily, the text focuses on the struggle for power among the leaders  of Masero, a semi modern state that is led by Emperor Chonda and deputized by Jandi, Oriomra and Sasia in that order of seniority. One of the chiefs, Oriomra considers that the highest seat of Masero, is up for grabs and he deems himself the right person to grab it. But there are obstacles that must be overcome or be eliminated. So he identifies possible weaknesses in his fellow chiefs and other people who matter in the succession race and explores the possibility of taking advantage of these weaknesses to spin him to be named the Successor to the sitting emperor. He takes advantage of Sasia’s gullibility; Dr. See Thro’s refugee status and the Emperor’s fits of making hasty judgments as well as his strange dreams. In chief Jandi, he takes advantage of his prime anger as well as his refugee status. He attempts to eliminate the other senior leaders so that he can be left as the sole heir to the throne. He does this by first prompting the Emperor to name his Successor and concurrently getting rid of his rivals in the race to the throne. To prompt the Emperor, he convinces, Dr. See Through, a diviner in the village, to interpret the Emperor’s dream to his advantage (P.11). He moves fast to eliminate the most eligible persons and top on his agenda is Jandi and Sasia. Originally he had planned to trick Sasia to kill Jandi and then blackmail him. But when he realizes that Zira, Sasia’s girlfriend, who is a cousin to Jandi, is pregnant, he changes his plan to accommodate her. Zira then is convinced by Oriomra and Sasia to falsely accuse Jandi of incest. Jandi is tried and found guilty. He is sentenced to banishment. Oriomra is on the verge of winning when a loose end in the plan snaps. News that Jandi has drowned reach the land, and Zira is tormented with a guilty conscience for having falsely accused Jandi hence leading him to his death. So guilty is her conscience that the only way she can clear it is by confessing of her heinous accusations. Sasia feels that this is going to be scandalous and so he attempts eliminating her hoping that Oriomra will cover him but to his dismay, Oriomra deserts him and even attempts to murder him. Zira, amid her pains manages to reach at the Emperors palace and makes a confession leaving Oriomra accused. Sasia is rescued from the hands of death by the diviner. Jandi who had all along been hiding in the shrine of God of peace (dwelling place of Dr. See through) resurfaces and reveals himself to the emperor.  The mystery is resolved and Oriomra, who is symbolic of bad and selfish leadership in most African societies, is unmasked and found guilty. He is taken to the Shrine of god of peace to shake hands with the truth. Jandi is named the Successor, symbolizing the start of the journey to healthier leadership and a better society.


Scene by scene analysis of The Successor.

The text is divided into two parts. Part one has three scenes and part two has two scenes. Part one serves as the exposition where the author introduces the characters and the conflict and heightens it. Part two climaxes and resolves the conflict


Part one Scene one.

It opens with Dr. See through, a high priest of Masero supplicating to the infant sun for blessings over the day. It is worth noting that the author opens the text early in the morning which is a stylistic way of saying that this is the introduction and we are setting forth at the start of the day. Dr. See Through then sends his assistants to the caves of hope and the paths of peace. These two assistants had been singing a song which again the author uses to alert the reader of the themes in the text.

Ndiegu akazia Kusuma akima umawana

Umwana Akazia kusuma akima ndiegu

Ndiegu baba

Ukalilanga guu

Zunu zunu zunu

A loose translation of the song would be

Ndiegu went out in search of food and did not share it with his child

The child also went in search of food and never shared with Ndiegu

Ndiegu is now crying. Why are you crying guu

Zunu zunu zunu


This is a song of selfishness and greed hence these are some of the themes the author highlights in the play.  When a father doesn’t give his own son food, that father is grossly selfish and is not worth being called father. And when the son in turn goes out in search of food and doesn’t share with his father, then that family is lost. The song warns the reader and the audience that the play we are about to read or watch is hinged on themes that surround the bad effects of selfishness and greed. And in deed it turns out to be true. Take note also that the use of the song in the text affirms Imbuga’s idiosyncratic style of using African songs in his texts. The fact that it is a Luhya song authenticates the text as a production from Africa and much more particularly East Africa. Again it is Imbuga’s style to use songs in his texts.


The author also introduces Zira in this scene. Zira represents the common person in Masero and her dilemma can be seen as dilemma’s of those people whose resources have been defiled by leaders. Her entry is marked by the hooting of an owl, which in the African tradition is considered a bad omen. It is a sure sign that the infant sun potents catastrophes and the silence that follows the hooting signifies the sinister underground activities that will go on in the day. Zira has come to confirm whether she is pregnant or not to which the diviner confirms positive, and a boy to be precise. She is advised to get married immediately and to the right man. As Zira leaves, the Diviner is at loss of words for he thinks it should not have happened to this Pamalika’s daughter who danced so well during the emperors coronation that the people who were present said that she was good enough to marry a chief and not just anybody.. Take note that the Diviner remembers Zira as a good dancer, which is a positive quality. Zira will be required later in the text to defend her positive image but she will fail. While still looking at Zira’s retreating figure, Oriomra catches him (Diviner) off guard and gives a comment that momentarily throws the diviner off balance.

She walks well doesn’t she? P.4



Oriomra seems to have come at the right time because he comes to learn very confidential information which he later on uses for his selfish ends. He learns that Zira is pregnant.



When we encounter Oriomra at the beginning he is a humble man who strikes us as an intelligent one. He is well versed with history and philosophy of his people and keeps on referring to them as he talks with the diviner. We love him for the way he invokes pity in the diviner and he impresses us with his knowledge of migration patterns. He impresses us as a peace loving citizen who cares for the future of the empire and its children. However at the end of the text, we realize that he is exactly the opposite of what he purports to be. The author therefore warns us to be wary of this sweet tongued people who can easily convince us to our graves.


In this scene, we also come to learn that the emperor is visited with a strange dream and he had send Oriomra to the diviner to inform him that he (The emperor) was to visit him the afternoon of that day so that he can unravel it. Oriomra delays relaying the message until very late. He seizes the opportunity to arm twist the diviner to tell the emperor a simple but very lethal lie, in the cause of unraveling the dream. He wants the seer to interpret the dream in such away it will be known that the emperor needs to name his successor as a matter of immediate urgency.


Things to note in Part one scene one


  1. The author uses the infant sun to signify the vulnerability of this society
  2. Zira is seen as a representative of the common man In the text
  3. There is heavy use of symbolism in the scene e.g. the hooting of the owl
  4. The song of selfishness at the start of the scene sets the stage for the atrocious acts that will be witnessed
  5. The author warns against sweet tongued people like Oriomra who use words to armtwist clear thinking people.


Part one scene two

In this scene, the reader is introduced another very important character in the play. He is Sasia the man responsible for Zira’s pregnancy that the diviner announced in scene one. Sasia is a Luhya word to mean scatter. In this case, the character is used by the author to symbolize his role as a scatterer i.e. one who scatters peace. He is hunting in the royal park, a symbol of the national cake accessible only to a few individuals. As we read the text or watch the play, we learn that this man has a characteristic of getting excited or getting annoyed with minor things. For example, after shooting the ill fated rabbit, he exclaims, ‘Fantastic! Fast class shot! That was a good a job. And a fat one too!’

Only seconds later to regret that it is pregnant. He hides in the solace that he was ignorant of its pregnant status at the time of shooting.

Zira: You killed it

Sasia: Who? Me? No. It was a mistake.


The killing of the rabbit fills him with sorrow and leaves him in depression for it reminds him a past he wishes to forget. The pregnant rabbit is introduced in the plot of the text by the pregnancy that Zira had gone to confirm at the diviners in scene one. Its killing therefore foreshadows the fate of Zira’s unborn child.

At this point, we have encountered three related cases of pregnancy. First we learn that Sasias’s first wife died of child birth (a pregnancy that went awry). Secondly, Zira is full of Sasia’s child and lastly Sasia has shot a pregnant rabbit. Three disasters related to pregnancy befall Sasia and this fills him with sorrow. Really he may have a reason to be worried bearing in mind that this is a society that believes in myths and superstition. However good leaders ought to maintain a sober mind in times of crisis. The way Sasia looses his capacity to think because his head is in a crisis as he says, is a sure sign that he is not fit to be a leader. Remember Sasia is a deputy emperor. The author seems to be telling us that such leaders cannot be trusted with national decisions especially when national disasters occur.


Zira on the other hand is portrayed as a nagging woman. Armed with the recommendation from the diviner that she should get married to the right man immediately, Zira forcefully confronts Sasia to an extent that he nearly looses his mind. She wants to protect her image so much that she attempts forcing Sasia into a marriage that he is seemingly not ready to hold. She is so excited with the prospects of being the wife to the number four man in Masero territory for today and after twelve years she will be the wife to number one man  hence becoming what she calls, the ‘empress’.  She experiences sudden mood swings that make her difficult to listen to her man and it is only when her moods return to normalcy that Sasia manages to convince her to wait until their child is born before they can marry.

On the other hand, she is portrayed as a wise woman who knows exactly what she wants and goes for it. Before she is pulled into the ignominious conspiracy by Sasia and Oriomra, we see her as a very respectable lady. And even after that, we see her battling to salvage her already tainted image by going for a confession at the palace and at the diviners. I would say luck was not on her side and probably that is why the author makes the owl welcome her to the shrine of god of peace, predicting a bad omen.


Again, in this scene we come to learn that Sasia is a date rapist who cannot be trusted with young school leavers. Zira has just left school the other day and here Sasia gives her alcohol and seeks cheap pleasure from her when she is drunk.

Zira:    When you gave me wine and I slept and you knew me in my sleep, was it not a crisis enough that you now call this a crisis? P.14


This character trait is used to cast a negative image on some African leaders who lure young girls to bed due to their positions. Such leaders, the author suggests, are bad leaders who have run down Africa by neglecting national issues to pursue their bodily passions.

Further ahead, Sasia believes highly of himself.  His reflexive statement says as much, ‘Many people are planning their lives around ours or perhaps ours around theirs. Allowing us to affect them……’(p.16)

This statement ttells us that he is a man who sees himself as greater than others hence he is fit to be on top of all naturally. It serves as a backdrop for his ready acceptance of the ominous plan by Oriomra in the succeeding events.


Oriomra is again brought in this scene. Again note: He seems to come at the right time when Sasia’s mind is clouded.  As usual, he acts slyly to confuse him even further. At first one would mistake him for sympathizing with Sasia’s plight for having shot a pregnant rabbit. But when he threatens to postpone their preplanned meeting because Sasia is not in the best frame of mind, we start sensing treachery. And it turns out to be because, Oriomra plays with Sasia’s psychology and psyches in him feelings of tribalism and hatred for the refugees in their country that by the end of their meeting, Sasia is seething with hatred against Jandi who is seen as the beggar who wants to overthrow the hand that has fed him. We come to learn that Jandi is a child of an unknown father and Gibendi his mother took off from her native land because war had broken out  when chiefs failed to agree on who would succeed their King who had passed on. So she sought refugee in Masero where Kaisia, Pamalika’s brother, took her and made her his wife and also took care of Jandi (her son). Remember Kaisia is Pamalika’s brother and Pamalika is Zira’s father.


Things to remember in this scene


  1. Oriomra uses a lot of lies to gain what he wants
  2. Sasia is a gullible leader who cannot be trusted with national decisions
  3. Zira represents the curious women who attach themselves to women because of their positions and not because of their worth.


Part One scene Three

The author introduces Segasega into the plot. The court clown, also known as old man sega is with the emperor at the diviners waiting lounge and he is engaged in a game of usurpation. The game works in such a way that if Segasega wins, he becomes the emperor while if the emperor wins, he continues to rule. Remember that Segasega plays the game alone as the emperor continues to sleep on a safari chair. Suddenly, the emperor is assailed by dreams of his late fathers head tormenting him to which Segasega wonders,

Your fathers head should be on your father’s neck, your fathers neck would be on your fathers shoulder……p.31

Francis Imbuga once more exhibits his idiosyncratic use of dreams as a stylistic technique in conveying his message. The same stylistic aspect can be seen in his other texts like Aminata and Burning of Rags. In the dreams are hidden messages that the author wants the reader to get. For example in Emperor Chonda’s dream, we get to understand that the problems of succession in Africa are primarily because rulers are simply afraid to hand over power to their successors. They must be forced using all means and that is why Imbuga makes the Emperors father torment Chonda in his dreams. This is a way of informing African leaders to willingly name their successors in order to appease the ancestors and most importantly to make and maintain peace in their territories.


In this scene, Segasega is presented as a humorous but intelligent clown who is well versed with the ways of tradition of Masero. For example he knows that Emperors are usually buried vertically when they die and not horizontally like ordinary citizens much as his position is marginalized as Ruganda (1989) postulates, he sometimes comes up with startlingly factual comments that we even doubt whether the author is right in calling him a clown. He also knows that the big man is not big without the small man for the small man calls the big man big. And for every big man, there is always a bigger one. His wisdom thus manifests itself for he naturally knows that the society is stratified (divided into classes) much as it may not be pronounced on the face value. Segasega then is the carrier of the strong message that the author wants to pass to leaders. By making Segasega speak to the King with wisdom, the author is asking leaders to listen to even the lowest of the society. They may be the best advisors to them. Segasega then, becomes one of the voices of reason in the play.


Things to note in this scene

  1. The characterization of Segasega as the elder and voice of reason is part of the strategies of transparent concealment that Imbuga uses to tell and show his message.
  2. SegaSega’s role as character includes also providing comic relief in otherwise tense actions as well as ascribing the play to the traditional African customs where Kings used to have food tasters
  3. Another stylistic aspect that Imbuga uses is the dream.
  4. The advice that the diviner gives to the emperor, ‘Beware of darkness in light. Beware of your advisors.’ This becomes very important later in the play as the plot unfolds.



Part two Scene one

This is the attempted murder scene where all attempts of assassination take place in the absence of the diviner who is OUT ON DUTY. The fact the diviner is out on duty is a paradox. We expect one who is out to be off duty yet the diviner is out of his work station but still on duty. You need to be very careful to unravel this mistery. This simply means that his being away is not accidental but preplanned. It is part of the unravelling of this strange disease that makes the emperor yell in his sleep.

Zira enters carrying a gourd which enhances the traditional Africanness of the play. It is also symbolic of the feminine nature of bearing of life. Gourds carry water and water is life.  Zira’s first sentence I a kind of sing song, which enhances the stylistic aspect of orality in the text.

Eye of the future

I kneel before your presence

And I beseech you to permit me

To look you in the face.


This sing song approach attributed to this statement may allude to the fact that this is holy ground and that one has to sanctify not just him/herself but also his /her words.

Further into the scene, Zira swears by the Holy book which in this case may allude to the bible or the Qur’an. This could have been used to mean that modernity and western values have infiltrated Masero. When she reads the out on duty sign meaning that the diviner is not in the shrine, Zira remarks,

I could swear on the Holy Book itself

That I heard him cough as I approached.


It is only later own that we come to learn that the cough came from Jandi who all along had been hiding in the shrine. He is probably the owner of the mouth which ejected a dirty jet of water at the beginning of this scene.

This scene carries heavy euphemism. This is perhaps one of the visible concealments of the issues addressed in the text. This way, Imbuga tactfully cheats and escapes censorship of the text because he doesn’t say things as they are. Remembers at the time of publishing this play, censorship was so rampant especially if the government authorities felt that a text uses words that incriminate the government of the day or bedroom words.

Beer is referred to as Omuhodo while sex is referred to as knowing one. Losing virginity is simply referred to as not being the same girl (P.42). Elsewhere Chonda refers to incest as seeking low grade pleasure in the fathers house (P.50).

The stylistic aspect that is most glaring in this scene is the use of flashback and the fusion of the past and the present in one smooth flow.  The scene starts with Zira taking to Sasia about the need to make a confession while Sasia is against the idea. Zira then flashes back to the events of the false testament she made against Jandi. This brings us to the trial against Jandi which is re enacted in a flashback but well fitted in the continuing plot. Zira recalls ‘as clearly as rain from the skies,’ how she stood in the witness space and shamelessly falsely accused her cousin of abominable sins. The trial in this flashback is actually a present trial but with Sasia in the trial box. Every bit of accusations leveled against Jandi were in deed committed by Sasia.

In the trial scene, note how Oriomra’s wit is again used negatively to his advantage. Note how he leaves the exchange of bitter and nasty words fly between the Emperor, Jandi and Akiuso to go on for some time before he intervenes. And when he does intervene, it is just to let his victims bind themselves even further. Knowing very well that his prey is well entrapped, Oriomra goes forth to sympathise with Jandi and infact pretends to plead with the Emperor not to, ‘torture him in this manner,’ P.44. Oriomra seems happy that Jandi is well entrapped and he is simply jeering at him.

Another thing worth noting is the proverb that Kaisia uses in reference to the Emperors hasty judgement,

‘If a king urinates in the bushes, even squirrels may see his manhood.’

The proverb is important at two levels. First, it serves to remind the Emperor that by making a hasty ruling, he is exposing his weaknesses not only to the weak ones, but to the sly and cunning ones as well. Remember in the African folklore, it is the hare, the fox and the squirrels that are bequeathed with traits of cunningness and wit. They take advantage of other animals and trick them into doing outrageous and appalling things. Secondly, the fact that the Emperor doesn’t understand it is a sure sign that he is unfit to be the ruler for what is a ruler who doesn’t understand the wisdom of his people?


As the trial scene flashback fades out, Zira refers to Jandi as a big heart to mean he was a good man. It is here again that we learn of the implication of Zira accusing Jandi of incest. In this society, an incestuous child cannot be allowed to live and Zira’s child cannot be an exception and this also helps the author employ African traditions in the play, ‘Oh! My God! No no! Yes, I see it now. Jandi’s child by you cannot live.’ (P.50)

One wonders how comes Oriomra and Sasia are national leaders yet such small mistakes and oversights escape their plans. Imbuga is laughing at the short sightedness of the so called African leaders who make very grand plans but fail to put into consideration the basics of existence such as sanctity of life.


The author also employs cross purpose talking as a dramatic technique. After making Sasia understand that Jandi’s child cannot be allowed to live, Zira slowly tries with little success tries to convince Sasia of the urgent need for a speedy action. But Sasia as stupid as he is, sees Zira’s death as the speedy action that will put the matter to rest once and for all. This is where they go talking at cross purpose just before he stabs her. The author manages to bring this out by putting the characters in a dreamy intensity that is supposed to reveal the inner conflicts they are battling to control.

Sasia:   There is only one way now.

Zira:    Confession. It is inevitable


Check out how the word ‘inevitable’ is expertly added to Zira’s statement so that it acts as the cue to Sasia’s next word. Sasia concurs;


See also how Sasia is made to talk sarcastically while Zira is lost in happiness that her man has eventually seen her point of contention. Thus while she is in the dreamy intensity because of passion of happiness, he is in it because of deep thoughts of the implications of what he is about to do. No wonder he prays that the society understands his crime as having been an action of necessity rather than of villainy. Again the cue;

Zira:    … the sooner I am relieved of this burden the better

Sasia;   Yes the sooner the better.

Then hell breaks lose and Zira is maimed, just like the rabbit was maimed. Note this link of events of death

At that critical moment Oriomra emerges and tries to console Sasia although to his advantage. Sasia makes a request that Oriomra helps him give Zira a descent burial to which Oriomra turns down. Feeling betrayed by Oriomra and having lost Zira and their child, Sasia’s future seems bleak and the only way out is death. He suggest to Oriomra to kill him,

…….Here take it (gives him a pistol). Shoot me, I want to die (p.52)

Oriomra politely jeers at him,

‘No, Masero needs you.’

It is not that Masero needs Sasia as its ruler but as a victim who engineered the false plot against Jandi and later on killed the key witness. Thus, Oriomra turns the tables against Sasia and leaves him, accused while he walks out scot-free. With the realization that he can easily blame every thing on Sasia, he decides to eliminate him and accuse him of having committed suicide. These would exonerate him from blame as well as permanently remove the only witness who can testify against him. Here the author tries to give a clue to the reader too understand why in Africa, witnesses simply disappear from the face of the world before they have testified.


And to crown his efforts in style, Oriomra sings his victory song then goes on to shoot Sasia. This song serves three purposes in the text. One it shows that the author is a master of using orality as a Dramatic technique. Two, it serves to break the monotony of the dialogue. Three, it tells us the callous nature of leaders like Oriomra who will sing and laugh at an unfortunate human being who they trample on in their quest for power.

In this scene, Oriomra is brought out as a representative of those dictators in Africa who rule by the sword, slaying all who are opposed to their redundant ideologies. They murder anybody who stands in their way regardless of the repercussions. The fact that he did not see Zira come round signifies the stupid oversight errors they commit while immersed in their acts of villainy (quote by Bukenya 1985, as reproduced in Ruganda 1989). Lastly this is a scene characterized by callous bloodletting activities. It is the climax of evil doing and presents a grim picture of the underground tricks that dictators in the contemporary Africa engage in.



Things to note in this scene

  1. The euphemistic reference to otherwise disgusting or pornographic words, actions or suggestive dialogue.
  2. The flashback as a dramatic technique, which helps the playwright to fuse the past and the present in one single smooth flow.
  3. The cross purpose talking (between Zira and Sasia) as a dramatic device
  4. Oriomra’s characterization which is similar to those African dictators who slay their subjects


Part two Scene two

This is the last scene in which we have the denouement. The previous scenes have been loaded with gory incidents and this scene provides a relief. The shocking, almost unbelievable events of the previous scenes are laid to rest.

The scene opens with the Emperor once more showing incompetence as a leader. He is impatient with himself and instead of engaging his mind in matters of state importance; he simply creates odd jobs for the common man represented by Segasega.  His dream seems to be his undoing because the visions of Jandi are again assailing him as he says

It is no use, this game of patience,

He comes, goes and comes again as before.

Did I err in sending him to his death?

Death? No, not death. I sentenced him

To banishment, but he chose death….. (P.52)


As stated earlier, the author uses the dreams as a way of alerting African leaders that they are solely responsible for their actions and those of their cronies in their territory. A time will come when they will be called to answer for their actions.


Segasega’s gimmicks that follow this tirade by the emperor act as comic relief to the grave events that have happened a while ago yet at the same time carrying important messages. In his comic manner, he talks of Chonda having inherited a palace that was built before the birth of democracy. This may mean that earlier on there existed aristocracy or autocracy where the leader could do as he wished without consulting and rulership was hereditary. Connected to this is the last page (66) where Segasega against says,    ‘If you ask me, that is what I call democracy. The freedom of mandibles.’ He means that nowadays there is democracy or rather it is a democratic decision to let the people decide which kind of punishment to mete against Oriomra Segasega compares this state to previous stats of affairs where the King simply decided on which punishment to mete against an offender without consulting. If we pursue this point a bit further, we find that earlier on, the Emperor had meted a punishment against Jandi without doing thorough consultation. This proved to be a fatal mistake. Now when he allows people to speak without his interference, the people approve his decisions. Thus, the author is categorical here that a good leader should listen to his people especially when he/she wants to take a drastic decision.


The game of patience is invoked again, and just the way Segasega had alluded to the king losing it on the table, so does he lose it in real life.  He loses because all along he was being misled by his Chiefs such that the only thing he can do is to except that he has been playing the clowns part. The author seems to suggest that some of these holders of national offices may not have sound minds especially when they are taking national decisions that impact negatively on the country.


Further in the scene, Emperor Chonda is again portrayed as a leader who doesn’t know his people well. People appreciate what Segasega says about the events in the country and in the palace more than they appreciate what the emperor says. Yet the emperor himself doesn’t appreciate the wisdom that abound s in his foodtaster and that is why he dismisses his important words thus, ‘….a jester. A man without facts. Have his words now grown teeth that she should flinch when he speaks………’ (p.54)


It is only later that he reveals that he was ready to name Jandi as his successor and the other chiefs knew it and that is probably why Oriomra decided to wrestle power before it had been passed to Jandi. In my opinion, it was Emperor Chonda’s fault to let the other chiefs know that he had a soft liking for Jandi. Treating his senior ministers unequally must have brought this jealousy feelings and rivalry. This is actually seen in the wider society where advisors of president s who feel sidelined do outrageous things to receive recognition even if it is negative recognition.


The entry of Zira to the palace starts the journey towards revelation of truth that culminates into the exposure of Oriomra’s activities. When the Emperor learns the truth that Jandi was unfairly accused and unfairly banished, he is so infuriated that he sends Zira away and swears to crown Jandi the chief of chiefs in Masero. One wonders, if Jandi is dead how can he be named a chief of chiefs? This is certainly one of the rashy decisions that make him unfit to rule.


Oriomra comes again and starts off with lies. Check on how he expertly tailors his truth to absolve himself from blame or any wrong doing. Earlier on he had lied and let off the hook but now he is lying to people who already understand the true state of affairs. His actions boomerang on him and he is exposed as the villain of the people.


The entry of Demokola and Ademola to the palace is sign that they are bringing good tidings. Remember that they went to the caves of hope and the paths of peace in the depths of the woods. It is from there that the vision of the seer on the wheeldealings of the chiefs was brought. This is a way of saying that Masero, despite all the pains it has suffered, has hope and a chance to regenerate itself. That is why all the people troupe to the shrine of god of peace to shake hands with the truth.


Things to remember in this last scene


  1. The characteristics of Emperor Chonda that make him unfit to rule.
  2. The author puts wisdom in a clown Segasega and foolishness in an Emperor. This is also part of the strategy of transparent concealment.
  3. The unmasking of Oriomra’s villainy required that Dr. See through beats him in terms of thinking before he could beat him in action.
  4. The allusion to hope through Zira’s confession and, Ademola and Demokola’s entry and the fact that people are all going to shake hands with the truth





Summarise the play, The Successor.  Pay particular attention to the important stages in the development of the plot

The Place of the Woman in the Society

The place of the woman simply means the role or part played by the female gender in the society. When studying a text of literature it is always good to ask oneself how the author has presented both male and female characters in the creative society he/she creates in the text. In the scene by scene analysis of The Successor, we have seen that the author has presented the male characters in a balanced way. Let us now look at how the female gender has been created and presented.


There has been a tendency in African patriarchal societies to look at women as unassertive and any woman who tends to assert herself is considered negatively while a man who doesn’t assert himself is considered womanly and inferior to the ‘respectable men’. This state of affairs is well exemplified in The Successor. The societal arrangement manifested in the play is a patriarchal one. Such an arrangement ensures that women play second fiddle to men in terms of governance and decision making in the society and women in The Successor can be seen from this light. The women include Zira, Kaliyesa, Vunami, and Rita. The diviner’s assistants, Ademola and Demokola, also have a role to play as women in the play.


The women are sidelined in the roles of decision making. Men pull levers of decision making unilaterally without seeking the opinion of women. The women only come in to implement the decisions whether good or bad. A case in point is when Sasia and Oriomra take a decision to eliminate Jandi from the race of succession. A woman (Zira) only comes in to implement the decision. It is Zira who accuses Jandi of incest that he is banished.  This then tells us that women are used and their role is to facilitate and implement plans decided on my men be they dirty or clean.

Women are also seen as climbing ladders to success. They are used by men when men need to be uplifted. A case in point is the way a married man is seen as a senior in the society compared to an unmarried man. Chief Sasia is ranked lower to the other chiefs simply because he is unmarried. In The Successor a man is therefore measured by a woman and not by his abilities.  In the society created in the text, married men are considered mature and able of leadership because charity begins at home. If one cannot lead at home it would be difficult for him to lead a larger constituency.

Let us take this discussion further. In Masero, one has to be married to achieve a higher status. Zira confirms this when she laments to Chief Sasia,

A man is not a man without a home of his own, and no man without a wife ever had a home in Masero. Why do you waste your time and energy working so hard, knowing well that the yardstick for a leader’s capability is a stable home? For how long do you want to be called ‘senior bachelor’ of Masero. (P.18)


For this reason, chief Oriomra beats his colleague chief Sasia in rank because he is married. Therefore women are seen as facilitators of success for a man and not for themselves. In order to earn respect in the society and to be considered for a leadership role one has to marry a woman. One then wonders why married women are not given leadership roles yet they are married. This is open discrimination against women.


Zira’s reaction to the revelation by Dr. See Through that she is pregnant says a lot about the place of women in Masero. First she is disturbed and ashamed and wonders what her mother will say. She admits, ‘my mother will weep with shame and will not again look my father in the face.’ (P.3)


Note that this is a gender insensitive statement because it means that a daughter is the shame of the mother when she is wrong. That is why her mother will no longer be free to look at the father because the father will regard her as having been the one who taught her daughter bad manners. Conversely, when a daughter does something good, she is the pride of the father and the mother is not counted. This can be explained by the reference as Pamalika’s daughter when she dances so well during the emperor’s coronation.  The role of then women then is to bring pride and honour to men and anything like shame belongs to them and them alone.




Do you remember how dowry is paid in your community? Who goes for the negotiations? Who takes the lion’s share of the dowry? Is it father or mother to the bride? And who struggles teaching the bride good wifely virtues? So in your opinion who should be receiving the brideprice?


Let us take this idea of dancing for men further. When Zira sings and dances with skill and grace at the emperors coronation so that she inspired many who were present, she was declared fit for a chief as Dr. See thro atones (p.2). I’m sure you would have expected that she would be rewarded by some long-lasting honour, recognition or gift for her valiant service to the state. But no, she is simply declared fit for a chief. Women thus get noticed for the benefit of men, especially when they are entertaining them; a woman is an entertainment tool, a tool for pleasure! How good a woman is at entertaining or providing pleasure to men determines which man she is prescribed for!

Women in The Successor are also denied leadership roles. In the protracted search for a successor, women are not given a thought. It is an affair about men; Jandi, Sasia Oriomra ….. and so on. Rita the only child of the emperor will not succeed her father simply because she is a woman. Emperor Chonda is even contemplating marrying another woman who will bear him a child (read son). In fact from the insinuations of what he says, one can deduce that the Emperor is eyeing Zira for a second wife to sire him a son who will inherit him. But he is annoyed that she has scandalized herself. The argument here is that women are ignored in key positions in the society. In Kenya, you will recall that it was passed in parliament that women will be considered for a third of all government appointments. This dream is yet to be fully effected as we see most offices held by men.




In your opinion can women really be trusted with key leadership positions? Support your opinion with examples of women who have genuinely performed well when appointed to key leadership roles or those who have failed.



Further in the text, you will realize that women are despised by their male counterparts. They are dismissed as being excited by non serious issues. When Zira tries to impress on chief Sasia to marry her before it is known that she is full of his child, chief Sasia refuses and calls her insistence, school girl simplicity. (p.15)  he brushes off Zira’s efforts of proving to him the significance of his rank in the succession matrix as being excited by numbers because she had just come out of school recently. Thus her excitement is summarily dismissed as school girl nonsense. What women say is simply seen as nonsense that cannot be taken seriously. Now such an assumption is detrimental to the society because women are equal partners to men. A properly developing society takes into account issues and opinion of women because women are an integral part of any society. The idea of generalizing women as having mood swings or being naggy has permeated the society and it needs to be uprooted from the minds of many if we are to grow and develop from idea generated by women.




Try to recall something a woman said in your society and then people dismissed it as women issues. Did the effects of whatever she said impact negatively on that society?



Look at the way Zira enters the stage when the play opens. She is carrying a water pot on her head and this depicts, among other things, the traditional roles assigned to women by the African cultures; those of being at the forefront in championing house related chores. You as a learned members of the society will reckon that the modern African woman has outgrown this idea of being bound to the kitchen because the social conditions require her input in various sectors just as it requires the mans input.


When Gibendi and Dr. See Thro came to Masero, they were refugees. Dr. See thro was given a shrine to operate from and to live there. Gibendi, we are told did not have any where to stay so she went from house to house begging for leftovers as she was on the verge of starvation. All that men did was to swallow saliva (admire her). It was Kaisia who took her and made her his wife and rears her starving son Jandi. You can see the preferential treatment accorded to the two refugees. Women are not enlisted for state support while men are. On the other hand Kaisia does not just take Gibendi so that he can help her because she is in need. Instead, he makes her his wife in exchange for protection. You can imagine what would happen if they disagreed? Gibendi will be thrown out of the house and out of the country. So she has to be very submissive.

Last but not least, let us look at the portrayal of Kaliyesa. This is the wife to the emperor who is just treated like any other woman in Masero. She is submissive to her husband and the Emperor and she obeys his command. If told to come, she comes and if told to go, she goes. (Pp.30-31). Kaliyesa appears at the end of the play pleading for clemency from the Emperor to permit professionals to join the search  for the supposedly drowned Jandi and if at all they find his body, she pleads that the Empreor allows them to bury  it in Masero. Kaliyesa intercedes on behalf of Vunami the supposedly bereaved widow. This intercessional request on behalf of Vunami by Kaliyesa suggests that women are the gentle diplomats and motherly godsend helpers who come to the aid of the disadvantaged in times of crisis.




Go through the play The Successor again and identify areas where Ademola and Demokola, appear. How has the playwright portrayed them?




Essay Question on the Text, The Successor.


Imagine Oriomra was the Emperor of Masero, Write an essay on how you think Masero would be.

 11.1.2 Briefly discuss the Ugandan political situation since independence to the time Museveni took over the reigns of leadership



As stated earlier, it is perhaps Uganda in the three East African countries that has suffered so much under political instability and military operations.  After its independence in 1962, Milton Obote took over as the president.  He ruled with relative stability until 1965 when ministers in his cabinet rebelled against the break-up of the monarchism such as Kabaka’s and chiefdoms and the assumption of all state powers by the president.  Obote responded by expelling them from the cabinet and when they organized a coup in the north he effectively sent a military officer Idd Amin to quell it.  Amin did it satisfactorily and Obote promoted him to the rank of a full colonel.  With time this new found relationship deteriorated because Amin was for the idea that the government heavily invests in the military while Obote diversified the armed forces from just the Military Army to paramilitary such as the General Service Unit and other special forces.  This led to the 25th January 1971 coup d’état which was commanded by the then Major-General Idd Amin Dada.


Idd Amin’s military rule in Uganda was ruthless and violent especially to those who were opposed to his rule.  It is estimated that between 1971 and 1979, the period that the Amin’s regime lasted, close to over 500,000 people are reported to have died with over 50,000 people exiled mostly in Kenya and Tanzania.  The tribulations of such refugees are creatively captured in John Ruganda’s Shreds of Tenderness.  Idd Amin used the intelligence arm of the Military Force, the State Bureau of Research (SRB) to gather information and terrorize dissident voices within the country.  John Ruganda also captures the activities of SRB in his creative works.  The Floods and Shreds of Tenderness.  The misuse of state machinery that includes the Radio, Newspapers (Gazette) and Police forces was also rampants during his rule.


Idd Amin’s rules ended on 10th April 1979 when Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) a guerrilla outfit headed by Yusuf Lule, former head of Makerere University with the support of Tanzanian government forces ousted Idd Amin.  Yusuf Lule was declared the president.  But his rule was not to last as he was also dethroned by his ruling party and Godfrey Binaisa installed as the president.  The removal of Yusuf Lule was basically because people thought of him and his team of leadership as people who ran away as soon as war broke and only came back to enjoy the hard-earned freedom when Amin was deposed.  Those who had stayed to endure Amin’s tyrannical rule saw the exiles as cowards who did not deserve to be in leadership position while the exiles saw those who had stayed as collaborators of Idd Amin.  It is from this conflict that Ruganda creatively, imaginatively and superbly creates his text, Shreds of Tenderness


11.1.3 Analyse the text Shreds of Tenderness


Originally published under the title Music Without Tears in 1985, Shreds of Tenderness explores the historical period just after Idd Amin Dada’s regime had been overthrown in a coup of a combined force of the UNLF and Tanzanian Military troops.

Amin’s government had been characterized by murder, violence and bloodthirst against Ugandan citizens.  Thus the disappearances or absence of certain important members of the family in Shreds of Tenderness is a literary manifestation of the histo-political circumstances of that time.  The head of the family (father) represented by the portrait that hangs on one of the walls of the sitting room was killed by the government soldiers.  One of the sons (Wak) of that family has just returned and naturally we would expect some celebration.  But Odie is not happy about his brothers’ return.  The readers’ curiosity is raised at this state of affairs.

As the play opens, Odie is busy engaged in an experiment with a termite in a jar, ice cubes and a bunsen burner.  For Odie, the insect seems to represent a content head of state who is obviously too complacent to bother about the security of his own people.  The author then brings in a second human character, Stella, sister to Odie and step sister to Wak.  She is happy that Wak is back after ten years of absence.  Odie is not happy with her because she fights for someone who abandoned them to suffer under the repressive regime that he reminds her that she has no otherwise but to side with him because “The Uterus rules the world”.  We later on learn of the atrocities meted against innocent individuals by the bloody regime.  For example, Stella’s school was raided and the army raped school girls and the nuns.  Ironically we are also told that Stella has a romantic relationship with the man masterminded the death of their father and whose platoon raped the girls at the school.

In part two of the play, Wak is brought on the scene and the hatred between Odie a stayee and Wak the returnee is played.  Revelations are made; Odie betrayed his step brother Wak when he was going to give a lecture titled:  ‘The Inevitable Road that will lead us back to Democracy’ to University students in one of the lecturer halls.  That is when he went to exile.  As a refugee Wak suffered as much in the host nation which in the text alludes to Kenya.  He is insulted and spat upon.  This is brought out in the many plays within a play in the text. Secrets of the SRB files are revealed to Odie and his activities as a government agent exposed.  The resolution comes when Odie agrees to pay the price of his actions by his death although we are not told if actually he faced the firing squad.


Implications of the Title: Shreds of Tenderness

The word ‘Shred’ means a tiny bit or piece of something. ‘Tenderness’ refers to feelings of love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and peace.

As shown in the play, these pieces of love and forgiveness need to be gathered for reconciliation and reconstruction for the purposes of a new beginning.  The need for this reconstruction is seen at both the family and national level. At the family level, there has been strife, quarrels, and disagreement among the siblings, especially Wak and Odie.  This is caused by issues such as the family inheritance, (pp. 20-22) betrayal (pp. 122-124) and the cold and hostile reception Wak gets from Odie (p. 77).  All these issues are instigated by Odie and they cause disruption and bitterness in the family.  Towards the end of the play, however, Odie gets to understand the reality of the intimidation and humiliation Wak went through as a refugee and he genuinely sympathizes with him and apologizes.  This is brought out in the play within a play between Wak (a refugee) and Mr. No-Fear-No-Favour (Stella) (p. 117,119).

In addition when Wak comes back home after ten years of exile, he is not bitter with Odie and is ready to forgive him for betraying him to the SRB.  He even tells him that he deserves the family inheritance since he remained behind and need the fort (p. 118).

Similarly, Stella makes numerous attempts to reconcile the brothers whenever they get into a conflict.  She keeps reminding them that they are brothers and so they should stop fighting.  “But you are brothers whether you like it or not.  Hitting below the belt doesn’t work.  You haven’t seen each other in ten years and the best you can do is jump at each other’s throat A brother is a brother man” (p. 58).

These attempts at bringing reconciliation at the family level are symbolic of the reconciliation and reconstruction of the entire country.  Due to the political strife in the country, there are cases of rape, executions and betrayal which show that citizens have little or no tenderness at all for one another.  For example,

(i)         Major General Ali’s platoon raids a school and rapes nuns and school girls, Stella included (p. 31).

(ii)        The SRB spies like Odie inform on their fellow citizen including friends for petty offences e.g. “Daudi’s dog yapped at the presidential motorcade…” (p. 127).

Attempts towards bringing reconciliation in the entire country are seen through Wak who, among other returnees, has come back with the sole intention of reconciling, reconstruction and rehabilitating the entire country (p. 53).

The play ends on a note of hope for the future of the country.  Wak forgives Odie.  Odie admits his mistakes and is ready to face the consequences.

One can argue that the text tackles a national issue from a family standpoint.  A family set-up is apt for representing a nation because a nation’s basic unit is the family the success or failure of a nation largely depends how the families that form it are.  From the family standpoint, we see the family members brave through great challenges.

However emotions of tenderness, of love, of compassion, of kindness and of forgiveness help them through to achieve a modicum of peace.  Pieces of love ad forgiveness seem to be the most important aspects if one is to reconcile, rehabilitate and reconstruct a family and by extension the nation.  It is good that we consider these shreds of tenderness both at Family and at National levels.


Family Level

The text presents a quarrelsome family.  Odie has dislike for Wak.  We really don’t know why but we can gather that it is due to family inheritance (pg 20-22) a betrayal (pg 122-124).  Odie seems to be interested in having all the property of their late father and that is why he betrays his brother to the SRB.  Once he realizes that the brother has escaped the dragnet of SRB and left the country he declares him dead and hence manipulates his way to inheritance.  Further tension is caused when Wak all of a sudden re-appears.  Odie grabs him in a very callous manner and accords him a hostile reception.


Some Emerging Issues


Some of the citizens who return from exile are ready to reconcile, reconstruct and rehabilitate the entire nation as shown in the following illustrations.

Pg 53Wak says that they have come back to reconcile, reconstruct and rehabilitate.
Pg 54Wak tells Odie to openly state what is bothering him so that they can all rest in peace and start building for the future.
Pg 73The ruling regime i.e. the Liberation Front is urging those in exile to come back home and has set aside forty thousand dollars for each family to help them reconstruct their lives from the ravages of exile.
Pg 117Wak reveals why he had to take to the bush “Not to save my little neck, but other people’s lives.”

It is suggested here that reconciliation is important before the work of rehabilitation and reconstruction can begin. Wak declares that he has not come back for the family inheritance but for reconciliation.  Infact he tells Odie that he can have it all.


In the light of the foregoing, it is evident that after a system of governance that is oppressive, domineering and destructive, countries are still able to reconstruct their broken pieces and move towards reconciliation.  This has happened in a number of African countries.  For example, Sudan which has been war-torn for decades has at present made very remarkable progress towards bringing together the two warring factions i.e. Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan.  Similarly Rwanda which was completely ravaged during the genocide in 1994 has almost brought to an end the animosity between the Hutus and Tutsis.

In the same way, when family members disagree over one issue or another, they should be willing to reconcile.  In the absence of reconciliation, strife, be it the political or family level, can go on indefinitely.


Betrayal as a causative of family and national disintegration

Shreds of Tenderness borrows by inference from the violence witnessed in another of Ruganda’s plays, The Floods. In The Floods, Ruganda compares the military regime to an ogre; and in the Shreds of Tenderness, he constantly revisits the violence that was witnessed time and again to confirm that it is in deed the cause for the dislocations/the fleeing of people that he creates in this play. For example Stella recalls that ‘the ten years of genocide of the now fallen regime were characterised by, the music of death at dawn, death at noon, death at dark, shroud of darkness not needed, not nowadays.’ p.10

From the play it is understood that Wak fled his motherland to escape death after his own brother betrayed him. The accusations brought against him are well captured in the telephone reverie Odie has on P.123

Is that the SRB? Number triple one triple three calling… put me through to the major-general… I’ve got a curious case on my hands. One Wak Witu… he is becoming a bit of a nuisance. Threatening to give a talk on democracy and all that… yes, always seething with discontent… like all the rest of his intellectual colleagues… they must be hirelings of foreign forces. Marxist, I should say. Externally dangerous. Will arouse the public against the government… he says boss is a big ignoramus; that he is a village pumpkin… that he is dragging the economy to the doldrums, to utter chaos and ruins.

At that time Wak had not learnt of the wheel-dealings of his brother. Even when the three strange and mean looking figures come for him within the University premises, it is a combination of luck and his instincts and sense of escape that help him lie to them as he buys time to escape. Wak recalls, ‘I met the trio. In the corridors of the social science building at the University. They had been sent to pick me up. I was going for my classes… excuse me, Sir,…. We are looking for a Mister Wak.’ P.122

Upon discovering that it is him they are after, Wak senses danger. He lies to them by directing them to a room used as a store on the second floor of the building, as he prepares to leave. He reminiscences;

Second floor, office number 213. he is out at the moment. Salaries section Main building. Or just in case he doesn’t show up, checks him in the main hall at 5.00p.m. He is giving a public lecture on, ‘THE INEVTABLE ROAD THAT WILL LEAD US BACK TODEMOCRACY,’ so my gamble worked. I dashed home, put a few things in a plastic bag, got some money from the family kitty, left a note for Beth to lock up and go to the village, and I began the long torturous trek into exile. P.122


Elsewhere, we come to learn that the death of Odie’s father was founded on betrayal. It is claimed that Odie actually informed the SRB that his father had committed treason. While going through SRB files, Wak finds this out;

At the SRB, incredible. Absolutely nauseating. The reports, the false statements, Christ!.. ‘Pepe spat on the president’s portrait in a public bar. Judgement; ‘let him face the music at once.’ And report back it’s been done.’ No investigations carried out. No witness called. No! Just the auctioneer’s final hammer on the bloke. p.119.


It is also discovered that Odie betrayed his friends as well. One of the SRB report files has it that a man called Daudi met his death in the most queer situations. His dog is alleged to have barked while the presidential convoy was cruising by and a case was opened against him and his dog;

Daudi’s dog yapped at the presidential motorcade… The dog, the first respondent is charged with treason and Daudi, the second respondent, with concealing his dog’s intent. p.127.

In summary, the author shows that the present situation in the play Shreds of Tenderness is a result of the betrayal and violence manifested in the earlier years as captured in his other play The Floods. The actions and decisions of characters in Shreds of Tenderness are presently informed by what has forgone.

Plight of Refugees

The refugee problem is prevalent in many African countries. It results from unpopular and bad governance as has been witnessed in countries like Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo just to mention but a few.  People have to flee from their countries due to political strife to seek refuge in other countries.  In most of the host countries, refugees lead very unpleasant and difficult lives as seen in the following examples:

P. 86 They are accommodated in camps where living conditions are deplorable.  Wak says “… there are ten tired, exhausted and hungry bodies slouched in there … This tattered shack is all the UNHCR can afford for now”. They lack basic necessities like water leading to unhygienic conditions.  “Then the sweat, the stench, and water isn’t for washing or bathing but for drinking only.  If you are lucky to find it”.
Pp 103, 106. They are abused, intimidated, humiliated and women are sexually harassed.  They are referred to as uncircumcised dogs, cowards, mongrels etc.
P. 105 False accusations are levelled against them e.g. murders, forgery, impersonation, robbing banks, spreading venereal diseases etc. Ruganda explains the predicament of the exiles, presenting exile as diabolic. Through Wak, he laments of the treatment accorded to exiles thus;

There is nothing as abominable as being a refugee… shouted at, your dignity lowered. Hell, man… from the sweeper to the highest official, they subtly remind you that you don’t belong… a third rate non-citizen, always associated with hunger and deprivation and cheap labour… sometimes no one wants you to work. Your very presence is an irritant… if you do more than the nationals; they say you are buying your stay. You’re living in perpetual fear of losing your job… you can never do anything right once you are a refugee p.80


It is also revealed that problems for exiles start with a first hurdle at the border where the immigration officers torment, rather than assist them. Such officers refer to refuges abusively as, ‘tornadoes of stench’. A refugee is exposed to a humiliating body search for guns and illicit drugs and if the person happens to be a woman, she is sexually abused without regard to her education or social standing. An example is given of one Dr. Rugendarutakaliretigaruka, an academic of repute who is grabbed and taken for a ‘quickie,’ an euphemism word to refer to a cheap and hurried sexual affair by the officers. Wak laments;

If you are a woman, every blinking idiot wants to paw you. The short term solution is to be permanently obsequious.


But why are refugees treated this way? Wak confirms that the reason behind this treatment is mostly malice, jealousy and sheer sadism. This is seen especially among the academic circle;

The academics are the worst. Always engaged in endless prattle on lofty subjects which they half understand and… worst of all, they profess academic freedom but the moment you open your mouth or challenge their views, they feel threatened. p.81

If you tie this statement to the ones given above, then it becomes evident that the nationals habour malice, are jealousy against the exiles and seem to gain pleasure from tormenting these exiles because they consider them as outsiders who are a threat to their jobs. That is why they strive to make the lives of refugees difficult.


As seen in the play, it is important to note that anyone can be a refugee and so refugees should be treated with concern, sympathy and understanding.  Mr. No-Fear-No-Favour who is a national of the host country humiliates Wak and swears that he can never be a refugee, yet when an explosion is heard, he is terribly frightened and has to turn to Wak who is a refugee for security.




Therefore, there is need for good governance in order to avoid problems that may lead people fleeing their mother countries.


Gender Issues

The society depicted in the text is a patriarchal i.e. a society where woman are looked down upon by men.  This is seen in the following examples from the play;

Pg 6 Odie tells Stella “Don’t shout, I hate it when people shout particularly women – sister or no sister. There is a tinge of disrespect for the women fraternity in the above statement. It is not that he doesn’t stomach being shouted at because as an agent of SRB, he was used to being shouted at by his bosses. It is just the way the society has conditioned him to look at women as members of the inferior gender.


Pg 129 – Odie’s father tells Odie that he is a perfect replica of his mother’s IQ. This means that he inherited his stupidity and miscreant behaviour from his mother. The underlying meaning is that women have bad manners that they pass down to their progenies which, of course, is not true. We cannot attribute the reckless behaviour of a child to the any one of the parents. This is a direct abuse to all mothers who in my opinion deserve better treatment than this.

Pg 81 – Women refugees are sexually harassed be it at the borders, at refugee camps or even at places of work if they are lucky to get employment. It is clear that when a woman is in trouble or when she seeks services, she is only allowed to access them in exchange for sex. This is belittling women and abusing their essence. It is regarding them as sex slaves and subjects. These are some of the practices that retard the social growth of third world states.


From the above illustrations it is clear that women in this society are not treated equally with men.  The men despise them and abuse them as they please. It is interesting to note that despite the low opinion that men have towards the women, women are portrayed as more tolerant and more reasonable than them.  Look at the way Stella has been portrayed against the backdrop of his brother Odie. They should therefore be treated just like men and be involved in nation building.




There is need for the society to treat women with respect because they are human beings first of all. The author makes Stella a passionate, concerned, loving and reconciliatory character purposefully. This is meant to show that women are very important in the process of healing the wounds of feelings of betrayal and anger. Any society which ignores its women does so at its own peril.





From our discussion, do you think the text is relevant to the contemporary society? Yes it is because all these issues are prevalent in our society today.  There are refugees in our society today.  There are the gender issues, there are cases of bad governance and there are attempts at reconciliation in African countries as has been Sudan, Rwanda and Liberia.


Sample Revision Questions

  1. With reference to Shreds of Tenderness discuss the plight of refugees.
  2. Discuss how corruption has been brought out in John Ruganda’s Shreds of Tenderness.
  3. Odie is not justified in the way he treats his siblings and father.  Discuss.
  4. With specific illustrations from the play Shreds of Tenderness, discuss the character of Odie.
  5. How important is Wak’s return from exile in the play Shreds of Tenderness?
  6. Discuss the effectiveness of the use of play within a play in highlighting the plight of refugees.
  7. With illustrations from the play, discuss the relevance of the title Shreds of Tenderness.
  8. Both the stayees and returnees are victims of poor governance.  Discuss.
  9. What is the role of Stella in the play, Shreds of Tenderness?




Further reading on this lesson


1.      Imbuga, F. (1991). Thematic Trends and Circumstances in John Ruganda’s Drama. Unpublished PhD Dissertation. University of IOWA.

2.      Kyallo, J. (1992). A Comparative Study of the Visions and Styles of Francis Imbuga and John Ruganda. Unpublished M.A. thesis. Kenyatta University Nairobi.

3.      Njogu, J. (2008). A Literary Study of Dislocation in Selected plays by John Ruganda. Unpublished M.A. project. Kenyatta University, Nairobi.

4.      Ochieng, P &  ——– (…….). The Kenyatta Succession

5.      Ruganda, J. (1992). Telling the Truth Laughingly; The Politics of Francis Imbuga’s Drama. Nairobi, East African Educational Publishers




Chapter 12


Having looked at the East African literary landscape in detail, it is worth our while to reiterate on some points.

All that we have discussed about the East African Poetry and Drama is by no means exhaustive. Even more important, is the fact that the selected texts cannot be seen to fully represent what already exists. Therefore it is upon you the student to read as many plays and poems from East Africa as possible. This will help you better your understanding of East African literary landscape.


Secondly, you may have realized that I have approached the texts from a contents point of view. I have specifically looked at how the content in the texts bear on form. This is not the only approach one can take while analyzing Drama and Poetry in East Africa. There are several other approaches and you as a student may want to explore some of this approaches. Other approaches may include looking at poems and plays from each of the three countries at a time. It may also include partitioning the plays and poems according to the dominant stylistic aspects. Additionally, you may also look at the significant authors from the different countries and their works. Therefore this is not the only way you can look at East African poetry and Drama.


Thirdly, I need to emphasize that in East Africa, there are so many playwrights and poets both known and upcoming whose potential lie undiscussed. There are versatile playwrights like, Okoiti Omtata, Jimmi Makotsi, Emmanuel Mbogo, Kuria Kanyingi, David Mulwa, Robert Serumaga and others. There are poets like Amateshe, Kabaji, Makotsi, Ndosi, Angira and others. The list is so big that we cannot enumerate them. Read about them and make your own judgments.

I acknowledge the fact that it would have been worth the while to look at Francis Imbuga’s play The Burning of Rags under a lesson that could be called, Drama that praises African culture while his other play Aminata could be looked at under a title such as Drama on Gender in East Africa. Moreso Okoiti Omtata’s play, Lwanda Magere and Nyambura Mpesha’s play Mugasha; The Epic of the Bahaya could also be looked at under a lesson titled The Epic Drama in East Africa. Lastly a title like Emerging forms of Drama would have looked at plays like Taban lo Liyong’s Showhat and Sowhat and Sibi Okumu’s Role play. Under poetry, Emerging forms of poetry would have included poems whose authors use sheng language such as What if I am a Literary Gansgta by Tony Mochama and others. All these and many more would fit under the umbrella of East African poetry and drama. However I have purposefully decided to leave them out due to the course content limitations of one semester (in terms of time).  Studying all the above would require more than one semester yet this course is supposed to be concluded within one semester.


But above all, do remember that there is the ever existent tradition of unwritten African Drama and Poetry in their various forms which have not seen the light of a pen and paper. What this means is that any mention of East African Poetry and Drama must recognize the fact that its length and the breadth is longer and wider than the estimated even within the writing (literate) tradition.


List of References

Achebe, C. (1983). The Trouble with Nigeria. Edinburgh. Heinemann Educational Books


Allen, J.W.T. (1971): Tendi: Classical Swahili Verse. London, Heinemann Educational



Alembi, E (1999). Understanding Poetry. Nairobi, Acacia Publishers


Amateshe, A. D. (ed) (1988), An Anthology of East African Poetry. Nairobi, Longman


Banham, M. (1976) African Theatre Today. London; Pitman Publishing Limited.


Cagnolo, C. (1983). The Akikuyu: Their Customs, Traditions and Folklore. Nyeri: Mission Printing School.


Gwassa G, K. (1969). The German Intervention and African Resistance in Tanzania.


Imbuga, F. (1991). Thematic Trends and Circumstances in John Ruganda’s Drama.

            Unpublished PhD Dissertation. University of IOWA.


Jahn, J. (1960). A History of Neo African Literature


Kanogo, T. (1987).  Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, Nairobi: East African

Educational Publishers


Kenyatta, J.  (1938). Facing Mount Kenya. Nairobi; Kenway publications.


Kerr, D. (1995) African popular Theatre; London, James Currey


Kinambo I.N. and Temu A.T. (eds) (1969) A History of Tanzania, Nairobi: East African

Publishing House,


Kyallo, J. (1992). A Comparative Study of the Visions and Styles of Francis Imbuga and John

            Ruganda. Unpublished M.A. thesis. Kenyatta University Nairobi.


Karimi, J. & Ochieng, P. (1980). The Kenyatta Succession. Nairobi; Transafrica


Kariuki J.M. (1964).  Mau Mau Detainee; The Account by a Kenya African of his Experience

            in Detention Camps 1953-60. London; Penguin


Luvai, A. (1987).  Module for Teaching East African Literature; Poetry. Nairobi, UoN Press.


Luvai, A. (1988).  Boundless Voices: Poems from Kenya. Nairobi, East African Educational Publishers


Maule, A. (2004), Theatre near the Equator.Nairobi: Kenway Publications.


Mapunda O.B. & Mpangara G.P, (1968) The Maji Maji War in Ungoni. Dar es Salaam: East African Publishing House.


Miruka, O. (2001). Oral Literature of the Luo;. Nairobi, East African Educational



Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1981).  Decolonising the Mind; The Politics of Language in African

 Literature, Nairobi, East African Educational Publishers.


Njogu, J. (2008). A Literary Study of Dislocation in Selected Plays by John Ruganda.

Unpublished M.A. project. Kenyatta University, Nairobi.


Osiako, J. et al. (2004). Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival, Experiments and

 Developments. Nairobi: Jomo Kenyatta Foundation


Ruganda, J. (1992). Telling the Truth Laughingly; The Politics of Francis Imbuga’s Drama.

Nairobi, East African Educational Publishers


Wachanga, H. K, (1975), The Swords of Kirinyaga. Nairobi: East African Publishing House.


Waruhiu I:  (1979) Mau Mau in Action. Nairobi:  Transafrica


White, G. The Drama of Black Africa



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