Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Ogutu Muraya were among the winners at the Kenya Theatre Awards 2023 hosted in Nairobi on Thursday, February 23, 2023.
The Kenya Theatre Awards were founded to honour outstanding productions, artists and the legacy of practitioners who have become icons while encouraging and celebrating a blend of innovation and excellence in theatrical productions in 2022. It is the second awards ceremony dedicated to celebrating the dramatic arts in Kenya after the Sanaa Theatre Awards which was founded in 2013.
The jury for 2023 included chair arts critic Peter Ndoria alongside Harriet Tergat Policy and Programmes Advisor, Office of the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Youth Affairs, Sports and the Arts, arts journalist Margaretta wa Gacheru, Kenyatta University lecturer Dr. Emmanuel Shikuku, as well as performing artist and lecturer Suki Wanza.
The Kenya Theatre Awards were hosted at the Kenya Theatre Awards on Thursday evening. The biggest winner was an adaptation of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Ngugi Wa Mirii’s 1978 play Ngahika Ndeenda /I will marry when I want. Some of the winners in the different categories were Noah Akintade (Best Musical Score, Arrangement, or Adaptation), Bilal Mwaura (Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role), and Mercy Wangui (Best Stage Managed Production).
The World Impact Awards are given to individuals who had given contributed in a large way to Kenyan theatre. This year, the joint winners of the award were Ogutu Muraya and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Ogutu Muraya is a writer and theatre maker whose work is embedded in the practice of Orature. He has been published in the Kwani? journal, Chimurenga Chronic, rekto:verso, Etcetera, NTGent’s The Golden Book series, and others. His performative works and storytelling have featured in several theatres and festivals, including La Mama (NYC), The Hay Festival (Wales), HIFA (Harare), SICK Festival (Manchester), Ranga Shankara (Bangalore), Afrovibes Festival (Amsterdam), Spielart (Munich), Theater Spektakel (Zurich), Festival Theaterformen (Braunschweig), Theatre is Must Forum (Alexandria), Theatre Commons (Tokyo) & within East Africa.
Ogutu Muraya’s comments on his award read on his behalf by Christine Misenga were;
I received this World Impact Award in the same spirit as a plant receives nutrients from the earth. I am part of something that is bigger than myself. All is connected. I am because you are. I stand here because others have stood with me. I am a product of the Kenya drama festivals, of rehearsals in dinning multi-purpose halls. I am a product of Storymoja and Muthoni Garland who helped me value stories and storytelling and facilitated my very first trip outside Kenya. I am a product of Kwani brought to life by the gravitational force of Binyavanga Wainaina. I am a product of The Theatre Company who staged my first play that found its way to La Mama in New York and you gave me a chance to translate Shakespeare to Kiswahili for London’s Shakespeare Glow. I am a product of Michezo Afrika, USIU’s drama club under the patronage of Uvyu Mbole who made sure I did not get lost while studying International Relations. I am a product of all of you being here tonight. My deep thanks to all artists that have come before me, to all that are currently practicing, and all that are upcoming. I am part of an ecosystem. I thrive when the ecosystem thrives so let’s thrive together. Life is sweeter in that way.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is an author and academic who has written novels, plays, short stories, and essays, ranging from literary and social criticism to children’s literature for decades. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the University of California in the US.
Ngugi said in a recorded address in Kiswahili and English;
“I receive this World Impact Award with joy and humility. I started fighting for the right and freedom for acting plays at the theatre when I was a student at the Makerere University in 1962. This is the year that Uganda got its independence from the British colonialists. Sadly, the theatre in Kampala showed only the plays of the English. My play ‘Black Hermit’ was the first in English written by an African at the Kampala International Theatre at a special screening. This was after my play ‘The Would In My Heart’ was rejected by that very theatre because it had an incident where a white D.O. (District Officer) said to raped an African woman during the fight for independence between the Kenya Land and Freedom Army soldiers or Mau Mau and the English colonialists. At the time, the Kampala International Theatre was under the British Council. At the time, I didn’t know that the very same issues would have me imprisoned in Kenya after independence. The play we wrote with Micere Mugo ‘The Trial of Dedan Kimathi’ had initially been rejected at the Kenya National Theatre and on getting a permit, I was called and questioned at the Central Police Station in Nairobi. The big question was why Micere Mugo and I were getting into white people’s plays at the Kenya National Theatre. Months later, I, Ngugi Wa Mirii, Kimani Gichao, and Sultan Somji said that the national theatre was in the villages with the people and in their languages thus the Kamiriithu Cultural and Education Centre was born. Our play in Kikuyu Ngahika Ndeenda brought people to Kamiriithu from all over the country from areas like Embu, Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, and other areas. It was banned and I was taken to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in 1978. When I left prison, we started another play ‘Maitu Njungera’ to play at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi. We booked dates for the shows and paid the requisite fees. When the day for the show came, we found the doors to the theatre locked. Later on, I was chased from Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta took me to state prison, Daniel Arap Moi took me out of state, Uhuru Kenyatta received me in State House. Micere Mugo and I were Uhuru Kenyatta’s special guests when the Kenya National Theatre was reopened after renovation. Thank you, Uhuru Kenyatta, you have a big heart.
Now things have changed. There are many plays in African languages without anyone being taken to jail and being chased from home. Ngugi Mirii and my play Ngahika Ndeenda had a showing at the Kenya National Theatre after nearly 50 years without the actors being taken to jail. I am proud when I say that Kamiriithu Theatre is known worldwide. My friends, let us continue to celebrate our Kenyan heritage in our languages. I receive this honour as I remember all the actors at Kamiriithu both those alive and those who have since passed on.
Theatre enthusiasts can watch the whole ceremony, all four hours of it, in the below video;