Renowned scriptwriter cries foul after his award-winning drama is locked out of the national contest despite topping charts at zonal and regional levels of competition.Cleophas Malala is a politician and a scriptwriter, but his play has been adjudged to be politically incorrect. The drama, ‘Shackles of Doom’, which depicts unequal distribution of resources and dominance of top positions by main ethnic groups, will not be staged at the national drama festivals, despite topping the western region contest.
The 27-year-old holder of a Master of Performing Arts Degree and Bachelor’s Degree in Information Systems, is also the Mariakalo Ward Representative in Kakamega County. Mr Malala says his plays are motivated by his desire to fight for the rights of the oppressed. Last year, Riara Springs Academy clinched the national title with his play ‘Godless’.The same school led in Nairobi which another of his scripts ‘Delta of Turmoil’, which talks about the plight of the Maasai girl.But according to the playwright, his current tribulations are not isolated.
“Over the years, I have been scripting drama for several schools, which have been performing well in the festivals. Apparently, there are individuals who have threatened to finish me in the past. It seems this time round they have had their way. In the zonal, district and regional competitions the play by Butere Girls emerged the winner, now someone thinks it has a political twist,” he adds.
The politician explains that the play was motivated by unequal distribution of resources in the country. The playwright said he was ready to amend the play’s script, and asked the National Drama Committee to lift the ban.
“I fight for the rights of the oppressed, that is why I choose not to look for white collar jobs, but instead concentrate on fighting for the welfare of those who don’t have avenues to do so,” Mr Malala argues.
Butere District Education quality assurance officer Isaac Ngaya said he watched the play and found no offending sections that warranted censorship. “I personally found the play good although there are levels someone else may have found offending,” said Mr Ngaya.
One of the adjudicators at the regional level, Prof Christopher Odhiambo of Moi University, said their role is not to censure but to suggest improvements in case a play contains offending information.
“We had suggested the use of more imagery, allegory and metaphor to achieve the level of persuasion that appeared abrasive,” Prof Odhiambo said.
‘Shackles of Doom’ depicts a film shot in the land of the ‘Kanas’, who refer to themselves as the ‘True Kanas’. Their land is rich in oil, but they are ignorant of the treasure that lies beneath their soil. A delegation arrives to their land and offers a beautiful lady called Wamaitha, to be married off to Lopush, who is a ‘Kana’ in exchange of a piece of land where they can settle. Wamaitha is three weeks pregnant when the delegation comes knocking, and Kimani who is purported to be her guardian is responsible for it.
Wamaitha is married off against her will. Her community, with great determination and strong will, construct the “Mafuta Oil Refinery Company”. Hiring at the company is biased and based on nepotism. The ‘Kanas’ demand equal opportunities, but only one of their own is considered for a watchman post. Then nepotism and unequal distribution of resources sets the two communities against each other, degenerating into a full-blown confrontation that leads to death. Mr Malala says he was inspired by the unequal distribution of resources in the country and the attention given to Turkana after the discovery of oil, yet the area has been marginalised ever since.
“When other plays are done with styles borrowed from other communities, there is never a problem. If they want us to replace the imagery, names and sayings it is fine,” he says.
Kakamega County drama secretary Wycliffe Indakwa expressed sadness following the ban. He said they were committed to ensuring the play was polished as a work of art as opposed to activism. Mr Malala says he developed the play on the understanding that Literature mirrors the society and his work should be appreciated. He cited an audit by the Commission for Integration and National Cohesion (NCIC) on distribution of public appointments which showed glaring inequalities in public jobs.
“I am just replaying what happens in our society and even NCIC knows that, so what is my sin?” he wonders.
The Kenya National Drama Festival begins in Mombasa on April 15.
Reports by Gibendi Ramenya, Daniel Otieno and Anthony Njagi