Sigana: Re-engaging Contemporary Cultural Reality

Oby Obyerodhyambo

Setting up learning centers, in a post-colonial entity like Kenya, is an overt act of political contestation. Like all political acts in the so-called "developing" world, it is an exercise fraught with dangers and contradictions. This is because of the kind of climate created by development policies, institutions and projects, all over the world.

The common denominator among the countries bundled together as "developing" is their dismal record over the past 40 years. Many of them are former colonies of Britain, France, Spain or Portugal, which have failed to fulfill the promises made at the point of independence. They have instead slipped deep into neo-colonial morass, characterized by massive foreign debt, collapsed economies under the control of Bretton Woods institutions, crippling poverty, unpopular political regimes, wide gaps between the petty bourgeoisie and the masses, and massive wastage of human resources.

In this context, any attempt at re-inventing the nation, outside the confines of colonial definitions, is a not too subtle display of power. As George Outa1   has argued, re-writing a nation’s history gives rise to new voices and new discourses. Debunking the colonial myths, which today are perpetuated by the neo-colonial entities, means contesting the official political reality — the official Truth.

In this essay, I wish to examine the political, epistemological and pedagogical challenges to setting up wananchi2  based learning communities, not as "alternatives" to the existing education set-up, but as a remedy and as a counteraction to the successful indoctrination of the formal education system. I posit that what is portrayed by mainstream educational scholars as the failure of the education system, is actually evidence of its "success." In essence, the "success" of existing education visions and policies is that they help to maintain and expand exploitative colonial structures of production. In fact, current educational policies have not changed fundamentally since the attainment of independence. Colonial policies that sought to produce a middle cadre semi-literate class of "natives," to facilitate a repressive colonial administration and provide menial labor for the cash crop plantations, are still in operation — if not in letter, then in spirit. I believe there has been and continues to be a deliberate political ploy to prevent the majority of Kenyans from meaningfully participating and positively contributing towards creating their own understanding of development and lifelong learning. Colluding in this process of neo-colonialism is the "highly educated" anglophile elite of Kenya, who claim to represent the voice of the Kenyan people.

To examine the process of establishing a new post-colonial and revolutionary discourse among Kenyans, I will begin by sketching the background to the prevalent political dispensation. To further put the struggle for creating learning societies into context, I will revisit the now-famous Kamiriithu Educational and Cultural Center3  and will examine how the State reacted to this challenge of the status quo. I use Kamiriithu as a platform to discuss the challenges that face the Mzizi Creative Center: Fountain of Lifelong Learning and Critical Consciousness, the initiative I co-founded and am working with. Mzizi is attempting to generate a new creative discourse that transcends narrowly constructed ethnic boundaries. We are evolving democratic community learning efforts through Interactive Participatory Community Educational Theatre (IPCET). I feel that community-based open learning centers, like Mzizi, can build peoples’ capacities in self-expression and provide greater scope for lifelong learning, which are essential for facing the neo-colonial challenges of education and development in Kenya today.


Not Yet Uhuru4 

In a speech on Independence Day while accepting the instruments of power from the colonial Governor, Kenya’s first Head of State, Jomo Kenyatta declared poverty, ignorance and disease as the greatest enemies of the newly independent nation. He alluded to the fact that the colonial administration had foisted these ills upon the people through its policies and practices. In the same breath, Jomo pledged his new government’s commitment to eradicating this unholy trinity. Kenyatta’s political speech was given policy interpretation three years later, in 1965, in Sessional Paper No. 1 aptly titled, "African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya." This paper is still hailed as the most comprehensive policy document to set the "development" agenda for the newly independent Kenya and provided the blueprint for government policies well into the 1980s. It needs to be noted that, from the perspective of nationalistic rhetoric for a country coming out of colonialism, the development agenda appeared to be very people-centered. Eradicating the three enemies was the cornerstone of the agenda.

Today, 40 years after independence – following the advice of foreign development planners and educated Kenyan elites – the Kenyan people are more deeply entrenched in poverty, ignorance and disease than ever before. In the year 2001, for the first time since 1963, Kenya recorded a negative growth in its GDP at –0.3%. The economy has slipped from the High Dependency Unit (HDU) to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). According to World Bank estimates, 52% of Kenyans live under the bread line (US$ 1 per person per day) and are unable to access basic needs like food, health, and education. The agricultural and manufacturing sectors have declined over the past two decades. Global prices of coffee and tea, once the main cash crops, have plummeted while local processing industries have deteriorated. Tourism, once a major foreign exchange earner, is on the verge of collapse.

The public debt burden is great, having reached its record high in the June 1998 period with the domestic and foreign debt being 37.7% and 68.3% of GDP respectively. More than 66% of the government’s budget is devoted to recurrent expenditure, with almost a quarter of the budget being used for interest payment of the public debt (GoK, 1999). In 1998, the unemployment rate soared to 25%, though later estimates project it at 22% (GoK Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2000-2003). In a recent survey by Transparency International (2001), Kenya ranked the fourth most corrupt nation in the world. Obviously, the Government strongly protested this ranking, but none would have expected it to embrace the distinction.

The national average under-five mortality rate is 112 deaths for every 1,000 children born. This means that one in every nine child born in Kenya does not survive its fifth birthday. The infant mortality rate stands at 74 deaths per thousand (National Council for Population and Development: Kenya Demographic Household Survey 1998). Maternal mortality is estimated at 590 for every 100,000 mothers. The average life expectancy has dropped from 60 years in 1998 to 54 in the year 2000 (GoK Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy paper 2000-2003). In 1990, AIDS was declared a National Disaster in Kenya. An estimated 700-900 people die daily of HIV related diseases with approximately two million estimated to be infected. There are approximately one million AIDS orphans nationally. Obviously, Jomo Kenyatta’s perceived enemies are here more menacingly entrenched than they were four decades ago.

The policy goals of education were defined by Tom J. Mboya5  in 1962, as "expanding the rate of literacy" and "deepening the sense of Kenyan and East African citizenship." Education policy was also aimed at providing and improving the quality of manpower needed for rapid economic development. But in educational terms, the picture today is pathetic. The educational sector in Kenya has been subjected to close to two dozen major and minor reviews.6  Despite all these reviews, ostensibly meant to make education more appropriate to the needs of the nation, Okwach Abagi and Jaqueline Olweya (1999) returned a verdict that the education system had failed dismally. They concluded that the education sector is plagued by limited access and under-enrollment, due to its high costs. The sector displays low retention, with drop-out rates as high as 40%, has low completion rates and low progression rates, with high wastage at every point marked by an examination. It displays low achievements and has an overloaded curriculum. The most damning indictment was that the education system has failed the test of relevance. "The system promotes the use of English at the expense of Kiswahili, the national language, and other indigenous languages. This promotes and perpetuates dependency on Western norms and values." Unfortunately, most teachers and educationists in Kenya are trying to put band-aids on these serious problems, rather than trying to see the system from new perspectives.

The nationalist political rhetoric, used to assuage Kenyans at the time of independence, cannot stand the test today, four decades later. Though the government continues to claim to have "developed" the country, measured against their indicators, the whole development rhetoric is a sham. The vast majority of Kenyans have not been delivered from poverty, disease and ignorance; they have been plunged into it via neo-colonist development. With this has come new kinds of socio-cultural paralysis and dependency which prevent the wananchi from creatively responding. Such an indictment is common throughout the so-called "developing" world. Education, which was once seen as the panacea to colonial-derived inequalities, has proved to be the single most efficient tool for perpetuating these regional and economic inequalities. The nagging question, however, is why does the colonial legacy persist forty years after uhuru?


Black Skin, White Masks

Kenya’s education policy reflected the ebb and flow of London’s prevalent colonial policy. When established as a colony of Britain, the white settler community believed that the "Kenya plan" was to create a European settlement, much in the blueprint of Rhodesia and South Africa. The country’s indigenous character and its majority African population were completely disregarded. Strict laws8  were put in place to ensure that African natives were reduced to free menial labor on the white farms. The European campaign for supremacy was only checked by the 1923 Devonshire  White Paper, which stated that Kenya was a black man’s country. The settlers were thus forced to change their political policies and then, subsequently, their educational policy.


Colonial Education in Kenya

The first schools were set up by Christian missionaries as part of the evangelization strategy. They started off teaching reading, writing, simple arithmetic and rudiments of Christianity. Along the coast where the Islamic influence had brought literacy in Arabic, they enjoyed little success. This may partly be due to the resistance that Islam proffered to Christianity and the elitist colonial education policy. The Christian missionaries were encouraged by the colonial administration to target the children of chiefs as their students. This coincided with the British strategy of indirect rule, which meant using local chiefs as their administrative entry points. The strategy depended on having educated loyalist leaders among the people and a supply of loyalist clerks to staff the lower cadres of the civil service. Hence was set the foundation of the alienating and elitist education system that has persisted in Kenya to date. This process of social engineering was deliberately geared to ensuring the subordinate status of Africans. They were to be kept in place through inferior — by colonial standards — education.

The colonial education thus created a racially segregated education system along the lines of the racist apartheid system. Even the racial apologist, Richard Frost writing in Race Against Time (1978) could not conceal the apartheid attitude of the settlers. He states, "European opinion in Kenya was almost unanimously opposed to any infiltration of non-Europeans into European schools, and the Government could only have insisted on their admission if it had overridden the European Elected Members in Legislative Council."

Not only were the schools physically segregated, even the curriculums were specific to the races. The European schools, for young white settlers, were a replica of the British public education system. Schools like the Prince of Wales, The Duke of York for boys and The Duchess of York for girls were set up. The first secondary school for Asian boys was the Duke of Gloucester. On the other hand, the colonial education department set up and established technical schools for Africans, and tied financial assistance to missionary schools to the provision of vocational and agricultural education to Africans. Records show that the colonial government spent 97% of the education budget on the education of Europeans and Asians, who constituted 3% of the population, and the remaining 3% on the 97% African population. Colonial settlers, who felt that the local equivalents were not good enough, sent their children to public schools in Britain or South Africa, while the Asians sent their children ‘home’ to India. European education prepared young settlers to take administrative duties or professional positions in the colony; Asians were prepared to be businessmen or professionals, while Africans were to provide basic manual labor.

In 1925, there was a major policy shift in education in Kenya, as a direct result of the investigation of the Phelps-Stokes Commission on Education. The government announced that it would have greater involvement in education. At face value, one could be misled to imagine that this was a result of a change of heart. However, when viewed within the context of the political happenings in the country, a more realistic picture emerges. Between the 1920s and 1950s, African opposition to the provision of vocational education grew. There was a rising tendency to question the basis of the colonial methods of education and the implications it held for the African population, its social and political development. This independent schools movement received a major boost with the setting up of the Independent Teacher Training College in Githunguri.9  The Africans had actually started setting up parallel education institutions that were overtly political. Under the ideological influence of the likes of Jomo Kenyatta, the colonial control over the natives was under severe threat.

Therefore, the colonists decided to emphasize the production of an "educated native elite." As seen above, such positions automatically went to the sons of colonial chiefs, whom the missionary education had concentrated on. Come "independence," these children and church leaders with a western-style education and smatterings of western culture were on hand to take over from the British. They had a very clear agenda: ensure that British control was not lost and that British interests (as well as their individualistic interests) were taken care of. Chinweizu10  (1975) describes it best:

"The substitution of European for African values was carried out everywhere [in colonial Africa], not just in the schools. African values were derided and attacked…. Thus did the colonial schools manufacture meek, grateful, and loyally submissive Africans, in many of whom every desire for that cultural and political sovereignty, their ancestors had fought to keep had been abolished."

Kamiriithu Community Educational and Cultural Center

It was against this backdrop of neo-colonialism that the Kamiriithu Community Educational and Cultural Center was established. Built through the self-help harambee spirit, it is an example of a wananchi-based learning community. Workers and peasants in the locality raised funds to build a community cultural center for intergenerational learning. Kamiriithu was not unique, in the sense that all over the country, wananchi were setting up such venues, with the aim of filling the gaping holes of the government education system. The high cost of education (through actual fees, equipment and loss of labor to poor peasant families), combined with limited placements in the system, ensured that colonial education remained elitist.

However, Kamiriithu differed from these other efforts in an important way. It attempted to re-define the development paradigm and prevalent political definitions, rather than try to fit into them. Penina Mlama (1991), while describing the role of Kamiriithu in the development of popular theatre in Africa, states that the objective of the center was to make adult learning a liberating process, through which local peasants’ could begin to challenge their exploitation. Kamiriithu sought to make "visible" how peoples’ poverty was actually beneficial to capitalist interests — to show how children providing labor for picking tea and coffee at industrial plantations, and people providing unskilled labor for meager wages in factories, was by design rather than by default. Kamiriithu started challenging the notion that establishing industries in the locality, like Bata Shoe Company, was "development." It is within this context that the State’s interference and subsequent destruction of Kamiriithu must be seen.

Ngugi’ wa Mirii and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, two Kenyan intellectuals, began to develop theatre with the workers and peasants, as a means of articulating their feelings and silent discontent. Suffice it to say, the reaction of the State to these activities was most telling. Before the wananchi-created play could be officially opened and staged to the public, wa Thiong’o was detained under the Preservation of Public Security Act (a remnant of colonial rule). The play was banned and the adult learning activities at the center were restricted. wa Mirii fled the country, along with other intellectuals who had become associated with the Kamiriithu project. After release from detention in 1978, wa Thiong’o was unable to resume his teaching job at the university. He returned to Kamiriithu and began working on a new production titled, Maitu Njugira (Mother Sing for Me) in the Gikuyu language. This play was to suffer the same fate.

After its banning, the government dealt a crushing blow to the Kamiriithu Center. After denying the Kamiriithu troupe a license to perform, the center was de-registered by the government. A day after that order, two lorry loads of armed police descended on the place and razed it to the ground. President Moi who had succeeded Jomo Kenyatta after 12 years as Vice President was later to comment that the center was "misleading women" and preaching politics that retarded development. This was the clearest indication of the Government’s concept of development: any activity geared towards raising popular questioning and public consciousness was anti-development.

I surmise that the State was against wananchi cultural expression and the animators’ efforts to discuss how the cause of the Kamiriithu community’s poverty had its roots in unjust economic systems. Such public understanding and discussion would not only have led to cultural expression against the injustice, but it would also have affected the availability of cheap labor for the shoe factory and the tea and coffee plantations.

The government response to Kamiriithu had the effect of labeling artistic activities in the university as "subversive" and of criminalising the language of creative discourse. The fact that wa Thiong’o, a well educated Professor of Literature, not only descended from the ivory tower to engage with the workers and peasants in a creative process, but did so in a local language, was a challenge to the State-centered vision of the educated elite. Further, the Kamiriithu experiment attempted to democratize learning by creating a center in which local-ness had ascendancy. Using a local language as the language of intellectual discourse allowed for the indigenization of information and technology and legitimized traditional knowledge systems.

In the post-Kamiriithu era, the challenges facing the creative community are two-fold. First, the Government of Kenya fails to fund or support infrastructure for arts and culture. State legislation, like the Films and Stage Plays Licensing Act of 1922 (enforced until the 1990s), further hinders any private support that might come for creative efforts. Adult Education, which exists as a department of the Ministry of Culture and Social Services, is under-funded and has mainly been involved in providing literacy skills, as opposed to developing critical thinking and creative expression among people. Therefore, to a large extent, developing culture, arts and intergenerational learning has been left to private individuals and foreign cultural centers, who mainly promote the cultures of their mother countries and provide only token assistance to local cultural activists. Second, to function effectively, wananchi-based creative learning initiatives must participate in the de-criminalisation of the creative discourse. They must work to generate a new ‘language’ to capture the reality of 21st century Kenya. Mzizi Creative Center is an effort to meet and succeed in overcoming both of these challenges.


Mzizi Creative Center, Sigana and Cultural Renaissance in Kenya

Unlike Kamiriithu, which was set up through community effort, Mzizi is a self-supporting initiative by four artists: George Otiu Kidenda, Fred Owuor Ouko, Hilda Adhiambo Obyerodhyambo and myself. After years of struggle to gain state and/or corporate support for open creative learning centers, we decided to invest and set up a center together. Mzizi Cultural Enterprises Ltd. launched Mzizi Creative Center as a fully-fledged public creative and learning center in 1996. The center incorporates a resource center, a performing space and a visual art studio. Mzizi affirms and asserts popular culture in the face of neo-colonial western culture; in today’s context, it is a challenge to the status quo.

The development of Mzizi Creative Center is intimately connected to its evolution of sigana. Indeed, sigana has become synonymous with Mzizi. Sigana is an interactive participatory storytelling form, which has been used in performance, research and research dissemination. It enhances community learning experiences and forms the basis of the IPCET methodology (described below). Sigana seamlessly weaves together acting, narration, music and other expressive techniques, in the form of traditional call and response, chants, role-play, banter and communal dilemma resolution. Sigana performances take off from the traditional narrative form. But because it is performed in a more "contrived" environment, it also incorporates more entertaining forms like song, dance and music. These are organically woven into the shows.

Active participation is the hallmark of sigana. This too originates from the traditional narrative form. However in sigana, the manner of participation and extent of interaction is markedly greater and more democratic than in traditional narration. While some storytelling traditions hand over segments of the story to participants for them to complete, others would have songs in the story, which would be sung together. Yet, in almost all of them, there was little room for participation out of role; one was confined to playing the role assigned in the tale. If the role was that of ogres in the forest, one was expected to stay within that role and not move from the fictional plane to the real plane. In contrast, the sigana performance dynamic calls for a very fluid relationship between these planes. It works with the "meta-axis," if I am to borrow Peter O’Toole’s (1992) useful term. The sigana participant is called upon to react to the performance in both fictional and real contexts.

Sigana eradicates the line between performers and audience. It sees everybody involved as a participant, and "communal dilemma resolution" as the center of its pedagogy. Unlike the traditional performer who seeks to enthrall, the sigana performer deliberately breaks the magic of "temporary suspension of disbelief" and engages participants to discuss the dilemma in the story. In this process, the participants’ sense of awareness and knowledge are challenged. They are called upon to draw upon attitudes and understandings from outside of their assigned roles, in order to deal with the problem presented. In the sigana tradition, a dilemma will be elevated in the fictional plane to symbolize a current relevant crisis being faced by the audience in the real plane. In this respect, the sigana performance becomes a tool for discussing serious community concerns.

The audience of sigana is diverse, and they bring to the art form its main distinction: multiculturalism.10  Unlike the traditional narrative that would entirely draw upon a specific culture, or at times the dominant culture, the sigana performance draws from myriad cultures. Even when a tale can be traced back to a particular culture, the music and movements are from a mixture of traditional and contemporary sources.

Sigana engages and challenges contemporary cultural reality, as we live it and as we envision it. Narratives in their traditional context encapsulated the accepted community cosmos. The narratives were passed on, to pass on community norms and values. Because of this important function, the narrative emerges as the most educative of all the genres and the most challenging, even in the traditional setting. In the context of contemporary performance, sigana redefines the cosmos of a contemporary multi-ethnic, multi-racial society. In a nation like Kenya, in which ethnicity is the basis of formal political organization, the debunking of ethnic myths and boundaries, and the creation of new permutations actively contests the mainstream political realities. In their place, new realities emerge, outside of the State-defined ethnic orbit.

In sigana, this liberation from pre-configured identities is instant and complete. As everyone can identify with the story, it is essentially a cultural "free-for-all." It reaffirms no specific cosmology, but a much wider African cosmology and goes on to negotiate a multi-ethnic culture and tradition. In this way, sigana artists assist in the redefinition of the collective culture and history of Kenya. At the same time, sigana also reawakens, legitimizes, and reaffirms every individual’s cultural potential. Today, these are being submerged in the emerging consumer-oriented urban ‘culture’, which the mass media and global corporations are actively producing. Sigana not only tries to positively present the cultures from which we are being alienated, but also tries to create an open and provocative environment for discussing our complex relationship with these cultures. Since it incorporates the psyche of the participants, it gives a space for them in which to say, "This is what I am." By so doing, sigana works at two levels of cultural awakening: the reaffirmation of the valuable aspects of our diverse and distinct ethnic cultures and the organic development of a new multiculturalism. It is my belief that the sigana pedagogy will gradually grow a constituency of multi-culturalists who espouse a multi-ethnicity, while not abandoning their own cultural heritage. I contend that sigana is not just a methodology of making this kind of cultural renaissance possible, it is also a product and a reflection of the same.

Given the many critiques of the European Renaissance and African Renaissance,11 I should clarify what I mean by cultural renaissance. The word "renaissance" is derived from the root "-naissance" which means birth. The prefix "re-" implies a second happening, hence re-birth. Those of Judaeo-Christian persuasion and believers in reincarnation can relate to the idea of a renaissance suggesting death a priori. It is thus assumed that for there to be a renaissance, whatever is the subject of the re-birth must first die. In the case of culture, this is problematic since culture, as we all like to say, is dynamic. Something that is dynamic cannot die even if only to resurrect. When I use the term "renaissance," I am referring to awakening, realigning and repositioning our culture to the center of our cosmos. So that our culture can provide the lenses through which we view the world and through which we wish the world to view us.

It follows that a cultural renaissance is not about awakening the "dead" traditions, or re-birthing the old traditions in new bodies, but rather evolving new paradigms of interpreting the world. This, I believe, is what Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Moving the Center (1993) is all about. wa Thiong’o has argued eloquently that through the experience of imperialism and its child colonialism, the colonized were forced to marginalise their cultures. This occurred through the institutions of religion, education and administration. The cultural renaissance will imply reversing this trend of marginalisation and rethinking these institutions. It is my argument that sigana has developed a poetics that makes these processes possible, which can lead to wa Thiong’o’s dream of new paradigms of interpretation.

For example, sigana has been used by Mzizi Creative Center in carrying out research and promoting new forms of dialogue. Two relevant examples are: the Public Perceptions on Budgeting research and the dissemination of the findings of the scenarios building project, "Kenya at the Crossroads."12 In the first case, wananchi critiqued the Government of Kenya’s highly secretive budget-making process, again part of the legacy of the British system. Sigana was used to facilitate three-day meetings, in which peasants in five rural locations discussed the philosophy and process of budgeting. In fictional roles, the participants assessed the current process of budgeting and suggested more democratic, equitable and people-centered ways of arriving at a national budget. It is significant that the parliamentary monetary committee received the findings of this report with a great deal of surprise. Many of the parliamentarians were shocked that wananchi were able to articulate such critiques to the existing budget-making system. And, even worse (for the parliamentarians, that is), rural peasants were able to understand the principles upon which an equitable budget could be built.

In the "Kenya at the Crossroads" project, four scenarios had been built by the well-educated upper middle class, civil, business and government sectors of Kenya. As in many parts of the world, this group does not believe wananchi could possibly contribute meaningfully to envisioning Kenya’s future. Yet, wananchi’s response to these scenarios was very insightful. First and foremost, they insisted on "home-grown" solutions to the country’s socio-economic and political challenges. While the "ideal" scenario advocated for both political and economic reforms, wananchi rejected this paradigm as the panacea for the country’s problems. They pushed for an approach that interrogated the socio-cultural foundations of the dominant political and economic paradigm. For example, they intensely questioned the notion that the market needs to be fully export-oriented and in some communities, even rejected the idea of free-market economy. For the workshop facilitators, it was an enlightening experience. We got to see firsthand how so-called uneducated people, not considered "experts" in the field, powerfully scrutinized the dominant economic-political framework, which was being unquestionably promoted by business, government and NGOs. Wananchi took the project one step further, by suggesting that we together explore possibilities for new visions and models, based on local cultural sensibilities.

While sigana was able to provide a framework for critical analysis, the process of generating new visions or alternative models still needs to be further experimented with. Sigana has so far worked under time constraints, mainly in three-hour or two-three day workshops. Also, because of the constant challenge of monetary resources, sigana is yet to realise its potential as a creative learning tool rooted in the communities’ everyday life activities, a tool which transcends the limits of critical analysis to engage in constructive creation. It is this objective that Mzizi Creative Centre is working to achieve.

In conclusion, learning centers, like Mzizi, open up an opportunity for wananchi to be critically aware of the ways their lives are governed. Moreover, a medium like sigana helps to develop the self-confidence of wananchi, to creatively explore and generate new paradigms of learning and living. These paradigms place wananchi at the center of decisions and power and can one day ultimately redefine Kenya’s history, socio-cultural communities, and political economy.



1 See "Oby Obyerodhyambo’s Sigana as Theatre" in George Odera Outa’s Fabricating Nationhood, a Ph.D. Thesis for the University of Wittwatersrand.

2 Wananchi literally means "people of the nation." However, it is not to be confused with wenyenchi, for which the closest English translation is "citizens" or "owners of the nation." Within the political discourse, these two terms are opposites; they suggest class distinction, between the majorities who live and work at local levels, and the elites who control the upper echelons of the nation.

3 Kamiriithu Educational and Cultural Center was set up in the outskirts of Nairobi by the wananchi in Limuru, as a community-based adult education and cultural expression center. It became the base for the well-known Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

4 Not Yet Uhuru (1967) is the title of an autobiographical book by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first Vice President, who resigned in 1966 after disagreeing with Kenyatta’s increasing rightist capitalist ideology. He is considered the father of opposition politics in Kenya, because he challenged the government throughout his life. The book’s title indicts the sham of independence (uhuru), as managed by Kenyatta.

5 Tom J. Mboya is considered the central architect of this paper when he was the Minister for Economic Planning. The paper is from an address he gave to students at the Royal College, Nairobi, June 12, 1962.

6 In 1964, there was the Ominde Commission, in 1976, the Gachathi Report, 1981 Presidential Working Party on the establishment of a second University, 1998 the Masterplan on Education and Training Task Force (GoK 1964, 1976,1981,1988,1998). These are the major ones.

7 This is the title of the book by the acclaimed freedom fighter, Franz Fanon. In it, Fanon analyzes the neo-colonial character of most of the independent African nations.

8 In 1907, a Commissioner for Native Affairs was appointed to regulate the employment of Africans. In return for living on the settler’s land (formerly their own homes) they had to give 180 days free labour each year and registration was compulsory. Under the Masters and Servants Ordinance, it was an offence for an employee to break a contract, once he had been recruited by the local council.

9 This college was set up by Peter Mbiyu Koinange, the son of a Chief who had received further education abroad. The political significance of this institution can be assessed from the fact that Mbiyu was a major player in the setting up of Kenya African Union (KAU), the first nationwide political party and that, upon his return to Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta became for awhile, the Principal of this college. Mbiyu later became a cabinet minister in the first post-independent Kenyan cabinet.

10 Gichingiri Ndigirigi (1999) has argued that, though Kamiriithu was a revolutionary and radical departure from what the norm had been, it was limited by its failure to provide a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural creative discourse against neo-colonialism. Sigana works to challenge ethnic balkanization and its political manifestations.

11 See "Exposing the Rhetoric of Sustainable Development" by Charles Otieno-Hongo and Isaac Ochien’g in the last volume of Unfolding Learning Societies: Deepening the Dialogues (April 2001).

12 The Kenya at the Crossroads Scenarios Project is a scenario building project that was undertaken in Kenya by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and Society of International Development (SID) between 1998 to 2000. It brought together several professionals mainly from the civil sector as well as business and government. The project developed four possible scenarios for Kenya’s future based on the premises of political reforms, economic reforms, both political and economic reforms and no reforms. More on the project at



Abagi, O. and J. Olweya. 1999. "Educational Reform in Kenya for the Next Decade: Implementing Policies for Adjustment and Revitalisation" in Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) Special Paper Series. Nairobi: IPAR

Chinweizu. 1975. The West and The Rest of Us: white predators, black slavers and the African elite. New York: Vintage Books, Random House.

Fanon, F. 1967 Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Frost, R. 1978. Race Against Time. Nairobi: Transafrica.

Mlama, P. 1991. Culture and Development: The Popular Theatre Approach in Africa: Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.

Ndigirigi, G. 1999. "Kenyan Theatre after Kamiriithu," The Drama Review 43, 2 (T162) Summer.

O’Toole, P. 1992 The Process of Drama: Negotiating Art and Meaning. London: Routledge.

Odinga, J.O. 1967. Not Yet Uhuru. Nairobi: Heinemann.

wa Thiong’o, N. 1993. Moving the Center: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. London: James Currey.



Oby Obyerodhyambo <> has over ten years experience of communication in various capacities as lecturer of theatre arts, drama, literature, editor, advertising copy writer, award winning playwright, short story writer and radio writer/producer, poet, actor, theatre director, theatre and art critic, journalist and workshops animator/facilitator. He is co-founder and director of Mzizi Creative Centre and is currently involved in developing and using participatory methodologies in learning, dissemination and research.