His most popular play, Betrayal in the City had just been re-selected as a literature set book for secondary schools in Kenya. It is the fourth time the book will be studied since it was published in 1988.
His other works include; Aminata, Miracle of Remera, The Return of Mgofu and Shrine of Tears but many remember him for his first play, Betrayal in the City taught in many Ugandan secondary schools. Issues that Imbuga explored in his works touch on tribalism, corruption, and authoritarian leadership, which he fuses with African idioms such as proverbs, sayings, and dance which appeal to the tastes and sensibilities of everyday people.
According to Austin Bukenya, who worked with Imbuga at Kenyatta University, “We were close colleagues and neighbours for the better part of twenty years, wrote and commented on each other’s work, and raised our children together. We performed together in numerous stage and screen productions (mostly under the direction of John Ruganda and David Mulwa), and I always felt specially flattered by his appreciation of my efforts, since he was one of the finest dramatic artists I ever met”.
Imbuga through the eyes of readers
Imbuga’s death is certainly a colossal loss to the East African literary and theatre fraternity. His dominance of East African drama, with major texts like Betrayal in the City, Man of Kafira, The Successor and Aminata, tend to make us forget that he was also an accomplished prose writer, with novels like Shrine of Tears and Miracle of Remera to his name. He was also a serious scholar, and we can only hope that his doctoral thesis on his close friend and fellow theatre great, John Ruganda, will soon be published.
I believe that Francis Imbuga’s life and work was mainly inspired by an irrepressible joie-de-vivre (healthy enjoyment of life), a cunning and incisive insight into human nature and motivation, and an infectious sense of humour that enabled him to write about the many sad and disturbing experiences of Kenyan and African post-colonial history with an attractively comic twist. As John Ruganda puts it, Imbuga succeeded marvellously in ‘telling the truth laughingly’.
Prof Austin Bukenya, writer
For some of us who met stage drama for the first time in secondary school in Uganda, Francis Imbuga’s play, Betrayal in the City was the definition of drama! That play gripped my imagination and coming in the early eighties after the brutality and madness of the Idi Amin years, it helped to show the power of drama as an instrument of social and political activism. Jasper Wendo is permanently ingrained in my mind! Prof.
Imbuga inspired a generation of writers in East Africa and beyond. He was also at some point External Examiner at Kyambogo University’s Literature Department. We received news of his death with shock and deep sorrow. He will be greatly missed.
Dr Okaka Opio Dokotum, Head of Literature Department, Kyambogo University
I just sent back my quite well known Notes on Betrayal in the City to East African Educational Publishers with minor corrections for reprinting after they asked me to take another look at it. They had just informed me that the play had been re-set for schools in Kenya. Hopefully, Uganda too will see it fit to re-set this book which I believe is the most student-friendly of his plays for class study. Imbuga’s sense of humour and easy camaraderie will be greatly missed in academia and the theatre field.
Laban Erapu is Professor of Literature, Bishop Stuart University
Professor Francis Imbuga was one of the finest dramatists East Africa produced. His most well-known play, Betrayal in the City, captured, in a powerful way, the betrayal of independence by a click of power-crazy, cold-hearted and self-important creatures who meted untold suffering on their countrymen and women using semi-illiterate agents, represented in the play by Mulili.
But he was also a fine scholar; under the guidance of Professor Peter Nazareth, he wrote an insightful PhD thesis on Uganda’s greatest dramatist, the late John Ruganda, entitled Thematic Trends and Circumstance in John Ruganda’s Drama (1991). He also wrote a number of commentaries on East African books, for instance on Mwalimu Austin Bukenya’s play, The Bride, among others.
And he was a humble and humane man in whose presence you felt at ease, even as junior person. When he was our external examiner in the Literature Department at Makerere, he guided us in a friendly way, telling us where we had excelled as he suggested areas which needed to be improved. The literary fraternity will miss him dearly, but thanks be to God, he will live with us through his work. Rest in peace, Professor.
PhD student in the English Department, Stellenbosch University
Other than Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, my infant love for drama was tickled by Francis Mbuga’s Betrayal in the City. A down unputable humorous and tragic saga of misrule in Kafira, which is as good as Uganda’s tale of yester years and today. What a loss for Jumuiya ya Afrika Mashariki!
Otim Lucima, Research and Advocacy Coordinator at DENIVA