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By Maurine Njeri, Member of the Young Communist League

 

A play is a literary work designed for performance in a theatre in front of an audience. In this article, I do not only want to appreciate the pivotal role of plays in liberation struggles but also to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of intellectuals such as Ngugi wa Thiong'o in the pursuit of a society organized around shared interests. Indeed, no play has posed a greater threat to the stability of the neo-colonial state in Kenya than the 1977 work titled "I Will Marry When I Want." The playwrights did not limit the play's scope to merely exposing the betrayal of the masses' aspirations and the crises of capitalism; they also harnessed their artistic skills to radicalize and inspire the masses to continue their quest for genuine liberation. It was the play's revolutionary nature that led to its ban by the state, the detention of Ngugi wa Thiong'o in Kamiti Maximum prison, and the exile of Miiri, all out of fear that the play could spark a revolution.

"I Will Marry When I Want" is creatively constructed with a problem-posing dialogue that stimulates critical thinking through various stylistic devices. This approach sets in motion the exploration of the theme of capitalist class dictatorship in Kenya, as well as the role of bourgeois ideology in imposing false consciousness among the masses. Ngugi applied a Marxist methodology in his analysis of contemporary situations in Kenya, effectively dispelling the ruling class's propaganda that Marxism is a foreign ideology unsuitable for Kenya.

A revolutionary playwright, using historical and dialectical materialism, employs diverse artistic devices to highlight key historical issues in society. Their aim is to provoke, challenge, and inspire a dispossessed class toward progressive struggles. It is essential to understand that a play, in a class-based society like Kenya, is never class-neutral; it can either serve the exploiters or the exploited, the privileged or the marginalized. It cannot be above class distinctions; it is a force wielded by one class to further its own interests. It can serve the working class by exposing the crisis and irrationality of capitalism, rallying them for revolutionary struggles, or it can be used in the interests of the capitalists to distract workers from their economic subjugation under the dictatorship of capital. Unfortunately, many plays in Kenya have been presented primarily for entertainment, serving to lull the masses away from their daily economic struggles, effectively functioning as "mental health stabilizers" in the broader education system and media.

Ngugi, through the characters Ikuua and Kioi, vividly illustrates how Kenya's independence merely changed the faces and colours of those in charge of the neocolonial state, rather than transferring power to the masses. The ruling-class figures, Kioi and Ikuua, act as local overseers for the imperial empire, overseeing foreign firms and giving a misleading impression that Africans are in control of their economic development. The play revolves around the establishment of a foreign-owned insecticide manufacturing factory, and Ikuua believes it cannot be situated in areas inhabited by important people due to the unpleasant gases it produces. Instead, they plan to use proxies as directors to conceal their identity. This mirrors the reality of multinationals pouring into the country under the guidance of the comprador ruling class, which limits the full development of productive forces. The play also highlights how the comprador bourgeoisie forms a class of the insignificant minority, shielded from the laws and in alliance with their international partners, actively participating in the destruction of nature under the broad banner of imperialism.

Today, Kenya's economy is ensnared by a global imperialist network, often masked as globalization and civilization. For example, the agriculture sector is dominated by British and American multinationals like Finlays, Twiga Fruits and Corteva, with their profits being repatriated to their countries of origin. Foreign-owned banks also maintain dominance in Kenya, extending their influence into the media industry. Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, has intensified with successive U.S. administrations overtly and covertly sponsoring proxy wars, coups, assassinations, and, in some cases, using bourgeois elections to impose their puppets, furthering their exploitative economic policies through the IMF and World Bank.

 

The playwrights reinforce the play's message by revealing how the local ruling class and their international allies maintain substantial stakes in the commanding heights of the economy, ultimately subjecting workers and peasants to a perpetual state of economic vulnerability. Kiguunda, forced by the Kiois to have a Christian wedding, faces substantial expenses and must take out a loan from the bank, where Kioi serves as the director. He offers his land as collateral, the same land he refused to sell for the establishment of the foreign insecticide factory. Working on Kioi's farm for a monthly wage of Ksh 200, Kiguunda is too impoverished to finance the wedding. He is unfairly chastised by Kioi, his employer, for failing to save. These tactics of guilting the poor are akin to the Kenya Kwanza ruling class's mockery of the impoverished masses and aspiring entrepreneurs for not adhering to the culture of saving, despite the ruling class being largely responsible for the neoliberal economy that exploits workers with subsistence wages insufficient to meet even their basic needs, let alone saving.

It is important to note that the "hustler" narrative, often bundled within the Hustler Fund Scheme, is not merely a wait-and-see approach but another economic rhetoric. The fact that Kiguunda's land is eventually auctioned by the bank exposes the cunning tactics of the ruling class in impoverishing the masses through the manipulation of economic and political power. In today's Kenya, as the masses grapple with the issue of landlessness, the ruling class continues to amass and grab more land, exemplified by the family of the first president, Kenyatta, owning more than 500,000 acres of land registered under various family members and proxies.

This play, a product of a capitalist society, masterfully dramatizes the essence of Marxism by demonstrating that the wealth of the comprador bourgeoisie and their masters derives from surplus value—the difference between what a worker receives in wages and the value of the commodity they produce. This starkly illustrates that, in addition to low wages and long working hours, there is a simultaneous rise in the prices of commodities. The system permits the accumulation of super profits for one pole while suppressing the other pole, resulting in the irreconcilable contradiction of mass production being solved while consumption remains unresolved. The comprador bourgeoisie becomes more ruthless as it seeks to serve its own interests and those of its international counterparts. Kiguunda's lamentation that "African employers are no different from Indian employers or from the Boer white landlords" encapsulates this reality. The play, through its theatrical approach, simplifies Marxist-Leninist theory to a level where even illiterate and semi-literate workers can relate and take action, as Kiguunda declares, "From today, Kioi has become my enemy. Either I die, or he dies. Why, they have buried me alive." Ngugi wa Thiong'o's literary works have not only integrated many young people into the path of socialism but have also led several of us to embrace communism in this part of the world. Through his numerous literary works, Ngugi made it clear to many that capitalism is inherently unjust and can be dismantled through the organized unity of the masses.

The playwrights keenly observe the dynamics of women's status in neocolonial Kenya. Despite the heroic contributions of women in the Mau Mau struggle, independence did not emancipate women from oppression; instead, the relationship between men and women deteriorated into a property-based dynamic, turning a formerly human connection into a relationship of possessions. Marriage, once a union of shared human qualities, became an arrangement between properties, one house joining another. As a result, modern couples, despite their church or District Commissioner-sanctioned unions complete with rings and flowers, rarely spend more than two nights together, confessing, "Darling, I'm sorry, but it was not you that I loved." Karl Marx's analysis of the bourgeois family and monogamous marriage holds true. Despite the popular belief that monogamous marriage is a litmus test for true love and fidelity, in reality, it serves as a means to manage the inheritance of private property and capital.

Gathoni, who succumbs to material gifts from John Muhuuni (Kioi's son), exemplifies how capitalism has reduced women to commodities that can be purchased and ensnared with material possessions such as cars. Commercial sex work is particularly pronounced in cities like Nairobi and Kisumu, where high levels of unemployment persist. The ruling class offers a nod to the idea that the only solution can be found through advocating bourgeois feminism and unionizing sex workers. Therefore, the play indicates that true liberation for women is only achievable through the abolition of private property.

 

Ngugi employs flashbacks and songs to celebrate the Mau Mau veterans while simultaneously providing a perspective on the development of African culture before the arrival of colonialists. Our traditional culture was unjustly stigmatized as backward, satanic, and evil. The colonial ruling class used force and religion as means to infiltrate the country, imposing their will while the masses were intoxicated with the rosary. The colonial rulers developed foreign banks and industries and placed local overseers in charge of their properties. This development was in stark contrast to traditional beliefs and culture. The colonial religion was designed to serve the measured goal of sustaining the exploitation of one person by another. The play effectively demonstrates that religion, as a tool of ruling-class propaganda, enforces an idealist worldview that distorts the outlook of the masses, effectively turning their perceptions of reality upside down. In the play, the biblical bourgeois class (Jezebel and Ahab) highlights the extent to which cultural imperialism distorts the people's consciousness in perceiving reality.

Current President William Ruto, like his predecessors, particularly the late Moi, has weaponized religion to gain support among the masses. He does not shy away from appealing to the masses, suggesting that our economy can only be saved through prayer. The ruling class perpetuates the regressive notion that religion is the chief determinant of human values and development. This is further emphasized by the First and Second Ladies, who are pastors by either accident or design. Just as the Kiois reminded their subjects that a good worker is a saved worker who should not complain about oppression, who should be content with their economic conditions, and who will inherit a good life in some paradise, the colonial religion serves the purpose of robbing us of our historical defiant spirit against oppression.

It is imperative that a revolutionary playwright thoroughly studies revolutionary theory to ensure that their art embodies materialist theatre. Like all members of the party, they must equip themselves with a proletarian standpoint through the study of Marxism-Leninism. Only then can they effectively analyse society through practical experience as a revolutionary artist. Their artistic works are thus shaped through a process that encompasses theory, practice, and a continual feedback loop between the two.

In conclusion, the playwrights have skilfully explored various themes in this work, engaging the curiosity and consciousness of the masses while calling upon them to unite and struggle against capitalism. Ultimately, the play presents a dialectical understanding of society, emphasizing that social phenomena cannot be fully comprehended in isolation, but only through the interconnectedness of social events within society.

 

The book review concludes with a thought-provoking question:

 

"The trumpet of the workers has been sounded,

There are two sides in the struggle,

The side of the exploiters and that of the exploited,

On which side will you be when the trumpet of the workers is finally blown?"



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