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Monday, January 7, 2008

Uganda is still bananas

Farce, comedy, tragedy, is the sure way to summarise 30 Years of Bananas by Alex Mukulu. It’s a play written at a time when the republic was really 'going bananas' -thanks to its past leaders.

The lead character, Kalekeezi, is a Rwandese refugee in Uganda who has survived over five turmoil-clad regimes and whose satirical insight into what the 'Banana Republic' has endured and lost since independence raises many questions than can be answered.

Under the stewardship of Alex Mukulu, the Golden Drama Team attempt to show that little has changed as the country remains muddled in social and political quagmire.

The play takes us down memory lane from 1962 when the Union Jack is lowered to the post-colonial era of poverty and starvation to the point where people begin "searching for civilisation because they want to be civilised."

The production is alive with rapid-fire action and witty dialogue: "Nationalism is tribalism under a microscope," the viewer is told, while president Idi Amin is presented as the one who seemed like a "satellite in space picking all that was being said below him."

The audience is told, "1980 is the year in which Paul Muwanga shut everyone's mouth" while Tito Okello Lutwa is presented as a hyena hater because "a hyena is cowardly."

Then sets in president "Obote's journey to drunkardness" and the economic war after Amin's ultimatum to the Asians to "decide in 90 days whether they were yellow or black."

The playwright paints a gloomy picture where everybody has come to believe that "man eateth where he worketh."

The 'national team' is symbolically depicted as a bunch of confused players juggling two balls. The point is that one ball, two teams and two goal posts work better.

The props, costumes and lighting were impressive while the sound and electronic effects did not take the place of words.

Kalekeezi's voice is pleasing to the ear, the enunciation perfect, plus he has this bodily vitality and natural charm that makes watching him magnetic -perhaps because the role is played by the veteran actor and director of the production -Alex Mukulu.

However, the director employs too much music to muffle the serious themes that drive this drama. This, plus, the intermarriage of several languages: Luganda, Rutooro, English stresses action that the hitherto attentive audience begin to yawn.

Though the fundamental idea is the conflict between government leaders and their subjects, the play doesn't rise to a strong climax.

After the author puts in a lot of intellectualism to give us a deep analysis of the past, comparing it with the present to prepare for the future, the result does little to purge the emotions of the fearful citizenry, especially after Museveni is shown still manning the national goal posts despite his twenty years of mismanaging the affairs of the state -just like those before him.

As the curtain was drawn, people hurried home without lingering to discuss the play because "poetic justice" in drama was left wanting.

Published in Daily Monitor, Friday, January 12, 2007