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Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City has Relevant Themes apart from Corruption

By Alexander Opicho
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After the Kenya institute of Curriculum development (KICD) announced that it had settled with Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City as a current drama set book for secondary schools in Kenya, some members of the academic and literary community expressed discontent. Their concern was that this book Betrayal in the city has been examined several times and there is no need to use it as a set book again. Another concern was that the theme of corruption is the main theme in the book and yet corruption is not the only public social concern for Kenyans. One of the persons that complained is Jackson Gicunda from Chuka University. In fact Gicunda quoted Imbuga himself to express his discontent by asking that what is in the Betrayal in the city. Gicunda was concerned why Ngugi’s books were not considered yet they were richer in relevant themes.

Careful reading of Imbuga does not leave any reason for faulting KICD over its selection of Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City. In fact there several, relevant and modern themes in Betrayal in the City that makes it a literary vogue at all levels, I mean all the levels of high School, college, universities and public reading. For example, there are very many themes that address modern challenges in Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City. Post-colonialism, political selfishness, intellectual snobbery, defeat of knowing by owning, culture of violence at the post-colonial universities, silencing of the political opponents through detention and assassination, poverty, clash of cultures and civilizations, gender blindness, exclusion of women, and socialist realism are some of the themes.In relation to Ngugi, there is a theme in the book about public concern for setting free of a university lecturer who had been detained for political reasons. Imbuga wrote this book when Ngugi, Abdallatif, and very many other intellectuals were in detention at Kamiti maximum prison in Nairobi. Wole Soyinka had already been detained and set free but then in exile.Okot P’ Bitek, Keropatse Kgotsitsile and Taban Lo Liyong were in Kenya working at the University of Nairobi due to hostility from the governments in their home countries. Thus Imbuga as a scholar was using his only weapon: drama to push for the freedom of the proscribed scholars at that time, just as Keropatse Kgositsile helped Ngugi to escape into the exile through Zimbabwe or just the same way Wole Soyinka Wrote a letter of protest against the post-colonial syndrome of Kenya government of that time. The letter was delivered through his emissary Kofi Omotso who came and then read the letter on behalf of Soyinka at a public conference in Nairobi. Soyinka and Omotso were doing this as a way of pushing for the release of Ngugi from detention. All these efforts were equal in measure and they deserve to be treated as classical themes in African literature. And fortunate enough, this is what betrayal in the city is all about.

Style of writing also makes Betrayal in the city a classic and relevant to date. Simplicity is the greatest virtue of Betrayal in the City. It is this virtue of simplicity and sharp humour that captivated John Ruganda while doing his post-doctoral studies in Canada to do his Phd work on the books of Imbuga. Ruganda’s Phd thesis was later on published as a very interesting and intellectually provoking book under the title telling the truth laughingly.

It is Imbuga who used onamastics, giving a name to the character with implied meaning of his or her negative social behavior, first as a literary style in the Betrayal in the City, before Ngugi used it two decades later in the Wizard of the Crow. The only difference is that Imbuga’s onamastics were based on the daily social relations among the members of his local Maragoli community and also he expanded its application as a literary style to the entire world that suffered the barb of post-colonial failures of the time. Contrastingly, Ngugi’s onamastics in the Wizard of the Crow was only specific to the nature of politics and government machinery in Kenya during the reign of Daniel Moi. Allegory, Flashback, flash-forward, mystiques, anxiety, onomatopoeia, self-depreciation, Clownism, dramaturgy and cross-purpose (Aside) are other styles that Imbuga used in writing the Betrayal in the City.

Imbuga and very many others are the success stories of Africanizing literature from the previous imperial tentacles of Shakespeare and the likes. We have to read, Study and examine such authors, especially, during such a time of the year when Imbuga died four years ago.

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