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Introducing Francis Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City

If I were asked to list three books that have shaped and defined the literary landscape of Kenya, then Francis Imbuga’s ‘Betrayal in the City’ would definitely be included. Not only is this book widely known to the Kenyan audience but it also played a critical role in summarizing what ailed the country at the time.

While some critics have argued that most of its thematic concerns have been overtaken by reality, the core arguments that Imbuga makes, in this play, are as relevant to Kenyans and Africans today, as they were forty years ago when the book was first published.

So, in My Literature Lesson today, we want to ask, “what makes Betrayal in the City so iconic and timeless?” Well, to understand that, one needs to understand the plot of the play and how the various actions interplay.

First, you must understand that the text is a a political play. The writer examines the problems of independence and freedom in post-colonial states in Africa. The play talks about military regimes that were common on the African continent after independence. Many of such regimes were later overthrown by coup de tats. Francis Imbuga’s major concern is betrayal at two levels, both at a personal and government level.

Betrayal in the City shows a decay in morals, greed for power.Doga and Nina lament as they mourn their dead son, Adika and wishes to perform a ritual for their dead son. This effort is hampered by express directions from the government brought by Mulili and Jere claiming that the ritual should not go on in the interest of peace; but Doga and Nina are adamant. Their only remaining son, Jusper, is imprisoned. This shows us what is happening in Kafira – the corruption, injustice and oppression of the people. Critics of the government are not tolerated. Jere and Mosese are henceforth put into prison over false charges. They both suffer the pain of the government’s betrayal.

Government officials make use of any opportunity to make money through unfair means. Tumbo for instance declares Jusper the winner of the play writing competition and awards him the winner’s prize money. One third of the six hundred pounds to——- finance the play writing competition is given to Jusper and his girl friend, Regina; and the remaining two thirds to put records straight emphasizing that everything is being done in strict confidence.

Despite all this Jusper vows to revenge someday even if it means going it alone since he knows that a University student is not a very welcome person in Kafira and is looked at as a nuisance. Government officials first think of what they are going to benefit before deliberating on matters of state. What first preoccupies their mind is how much they are going to gain. Being a relative to Boss gives Mulili a chance to despise his colleagues in service.

Mulili falsely accuses Kabito knowing that Boss will believe what he says since he has been made to be his eyes and ears on the ground as he puts it. He is also favoured by Boss in many ways. The semi-illiterate Mulili sometimes completely misunderstands and distorts what is said to him and yet threatens to act basing on the strength of that misunderstanding. Boss’ trust of those who advise him especially Mulili makes him give unbearable directives to silence those presumably against his government including the simple old couple who were innocent. Boss also tries to take advantage of Regina forcefully. Such scandals speak unfavourably of the Head of State.

Nicodemo and Tumbo discuss the state of affairs and how people are being killed: “We have no choice. Like caged animals, we move, but only inside the cage. It has become infectious-the desire to eliminate others…” This clearly implies that there are serious consequences of criticizing the government’s plans. T

he play within the play, Betrayal in the City, brings about the desired change that everybody has been waiting for. The rehearsal for the play intended to entertain the visiting Head of state becomes a real confrontation arrived at effortlessly by Jusper, Mosese, and Jere; taking everyone by surprise.


John Nyakoyo

Does written Literature rock your boat like it does mine? I think so… that’s why you’re here 🙂 Join me as I take a look at some of East Africa’s most prolific writers and their works.

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