Alex Mukulu’s 60 Years of Bananas

Dances of Poverty by Alex Mukulu in 2000. PHOTOS | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Theatre. Alex Mukulu uses his plays to  point out the ills of society. He tells Edgar R. Batte about his trade. 

It is 30 years since veteran playwright, Alex Mukulu staged his acclaimed play 30 Years of Bananas, an analytical drama work that let theatre goers muse over the social, economic, and political gains and losses of Uganda’s independence.

Metaphorically, there was not much to celebrate. As Uganda marks 60 Years of Independence, Mukulu says in the narrative he would give 60 Years of Bananas, he would adopt a new title, thus Africa’s Last Dictator, one who he says is unknown.

“(Today), The Queen (of England) was being buried. How are we going to bury the Last Dictator of Africa? Will people que like they did with Queen Elizabeth or people wouldn’t even come? I don’t know but once upon a time in the future, we shall know,” the 68-year-old playwright allegorically says.

In packaging the play, the thematic concerns he represented in 30 Years of Bananas, will reprise through the main protagonist, Karyekyezi, a Rwandese, with his sneering and snaking attributes for survival.

Alex Mukulu at his Residence in Ggaba in 1997. 

“When you look at that character in the play, you are looking at someone, a foreigner, a nobody trying to survive in the different regimes we (Uganda) have gone through, from the first president to today. That is what I see that it is still here, that people still struggle to survive which is the major theme in 30 Years of Bananas. The survival factor is still with us. We are not doing what we are supposed to do unless it is about survival,” Uganda’s celebrated playwright explains, adding that affluence requires you not to just look at food and what to eat and drink but extends to personal values and beliefs.

He adds, “If I am supposed to die because of what I believe in, am I ready? We need to have values which we are ready to die for. The main character, Karyekyezi, did not have that. He was not ready to die for anything, as long as he survived.”

If he were to grow the protagonist 30 years later, he would and would not have grown because by 60 he is expected to have discovered himself and discovered his mistakes and as such, do self-reflection and tell and guide his children and grandchildren to learn from his mistakes and stay clear of them.

And in mirroring Uganda through Karyekyezi, its citizens are expected to have attained self-actualisation. He questions who would Ugandans burry in the play, Africa’s Last Dictator, a hero, or villain.

“Both notorious and famous people come up. Today, we have some notorious people known for their notoriety and others known because they have done well, so the question would be, who are we burying and why and when are we burying him? The thing is, who do we call a dictator and what has he done? What are we supposed to say about him? We need to understand who a leader is, and who a ruler is; they are different people,” Mukulu further explains, detailing the content analysis that would feed into the plot of the play, Africa’s Last Dictator as a supposed sequence to his 1992 classic titled 30 Years of Bananas.

And as he confirms, he is slowly piecing the play together. At the time he did the play, some of the current political players were not on the scene, namely Dr. Warren Kiiza Besigye, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu and Nobert Mao.

I ask him what effect they have had on directing the political direction of Uganda. He says, “When you talk of Besigye as an actor, he came with those people and knows them. Then, with Kyagulanyi, he has a following of young people, and many have failed this country. They don’t have working ethics. They don’t have parental guidance and educational professionalism. All they know is that they are of the dotcom era which means nothing. What is the use of you being of the dotcom era and when I ask you what one plus one, you don’t know so we are in a dilemma that people who have come to stand for leadership, we question whether they are able.”

“Those people, Besigye and Kyagulanyi…in the Bible, we have a character called John the Baptist who talked to people about the one who was coming and that he was not even worthy of tying their shoelaces.”

“The current political players are talking about who is to come to replace or take us on but they don’t know who she or he is, just like John the Baptist. In theatre, we call it rehearsal. They may not know it but that’s what they are doing. Neither Kyagulanyi nor Besigye will be able (to lead Uganda) but all their activities, according to world philosophy, are part of the setting. Everything comes to an end, just like this regime will,” he further projects.

The attributes Mukulu contextually lists of a leader worth their salt, include self-sacrifice even if it means them dying for the sake of the people and the good, they believe in, a pacesetter or trailblazer which are all distinct from what the aspirations and drivers of a dictator.

“We hope that we will get leaders one day 

Some of Uganda’s top plays in 60 years

Mother Uganda and Her Children- Rose Mbowa

Black Mamba- John Ruganda

Oluyimba Lwa Wankoko (The Song of Mr. Cock)- Byron Kawadwa

Renga Moi- Robert Serumaga (Abafumi Theatre Group)

Silent Voices- Judith Adong

Endless NighT- Fagil Monday

Akalabo ka Ntale- Mulago Theatre Kings

30 Years of Bananas- Alex Mukulu

Keeping Up with the Mukasas- Elvania Zirimu

Ensintaano- Afri Talent Drama Group

State of the Nation- Beyond Borders Entertainment

Majangwa: A Promise of Rains- Robert Serumaga

The Prince- Patrick Mangeni

When the Hunchback Made Rain- Elvania Zirimu

Lady, Will You Marry Me- Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare

Muzukulu wa Kalangala- Alex Mukulu

Opera Bakisimba- Alex Mukulu

Wounds of Africa- Alex Mukulu

Seven Wonders of Uganda- Alex Mukulu

Ndiwulira- Bakayimbira Dramactors

Gampisi- Negro Angels

Wacha Habari Yako-Jack Kinobe Sserunkuuma