The annual drama festivals competitors step forward to display their talent at the Nairobi zonal level. Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri/Standard

Besides entertainment and competing for the top prize, the performers drawn from colleges and universities around Nairobi presented pieces that were also educational.

The three-day event that brought together universities and colleges on the same stage before heading for the finals was different as other regional festivals had only colleges competing. And unlike in the past when universities within the zone would have a direct pass to the national finals, the rules changed and they have to be thoroughly vetted before proceeding.

The executive secretary of the Kenya National Drama Festivals, Patrick Khaemba, says: “All items have to be judged in order to ensure quality is upheld because at the nationals we need the best and nothing less.”

Among the issues brought to light were conflicts arising between the elite in society and the illiterate masses.

The audience was kept at the edge when Kenya Technical Teachers College hit the stage with their play, The hand that Feedeth, which revolves around two brothers – one is a peasant while the other is a rich investor – who own land.

Mackenzie, the rich man, is played by Jacob Nicholas who is business minded and ends up tricking his illiterate brother, Wekesa, to sell him land at a throw-away price in the pretext that they will become business partners. He sends his brother and his wife to go and study in the city. Meanwhile he acquires other farmers’ land as well.

When the two come back, Mackenzie has developed the piece of land by building an imposing hotel and turned Wekesa’s children into casual labourers.

The play points out serious social issues where poor local communities are tricked by the elite whose interest is business and sink further into gnawing poverty.

Corruption in the disciplined forces was a major theme in the competition. An oral narrative by Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, Senior Superintendent, about a senior traffic officer who realises that his juniors are getting rich quickly and after investigating, he finds out they are taking huge bribes.

He takes to the evil habit. One day, he flags down a bus which is overloaded only to give it the green light to continue with the journey after receiving a bribe. A few metres away, the bus rolls only for him to find out that his wife and child have perished in the grisly accident.

A play by the Kenya Methodist University also had the same theme but about senior prison officers who collude with inmates to fleece unsuspecting citizens.

The play unfolds when a senior prison officer, Mbaira, smuggles phones for an inmate, Mboko, who uses it to get money and gives the officer a handsome share of the amount sent through mobile money transfer.

Problem arises when the prisoner is traced. Before he names his accomplices, he is killed and a junior officer, Jairo, is implicated in the smuggling of phones into prison. But the truth finally comes out when Mbaria’s link in the deal is uncovered.

Traditional dramatised dances also told stories relevant to the nation.

The National Youth Service was not left behind when its Institute of Business Studies presented a dance, The Castus, which highlights the plight of a girl who is raped by the father and ends up getting pregnant.

The girl’s mother suffers shock and dies while the girl, shocked by her mother’s death, miscarries. Mob injustice is discouraged when villagers bay for the man’s blood only for him to be rescued by the police and the law takes its course.

Host Kenya Polytechnic University College captured the audience with their narration of a handsome young man, Samson, who refused to get attached to any lady despite the fact that many ladies were in love with him. To every villager’s horror, he ended up marrying a fellow man.

The story, Opera Mundu, questions what would happen to the society if same-sex marriages were to become a norm.

Kabete Technical Training Institute’s dance, Yokozuna, displayed how alcohol is wrecking homes when drunken men met out violence on their wives.

In the dramatised dance, the bread winner drinks himself to blindness. The good thing is that he becomes useful as a cobbler with no eyes than as a drunkard with eyes.

Kenya Institute of Mass Communication had a showstopper on the forthcoming elections in a subtle way using Kidumbwedumbwe, a choral verse that pits two football teams who represent the political players and how they engage their fans to advance their desire for power.

In the long run, it is the same fans who suffer after engaging in physical fights while the political players sit and enjoy power.

After three days of gruelling stage battle, the best teams are waiting to sweat it out for the national crown in Kakamega as from April 9.

At the recent Nairobi zone colleges and universities drama festival competition, some teams were conspicuously missing.

Thogoto Teachers Training College whose play, Brother Joel, won the crown at the national finals in 2009, presented a sub-standard play this year.

The play was devoid of coherence and glamour and lasted a paltry 16 minutes instead of the usual 50.

The East Africa Media Institute, which took the crown in the narrative category last year with its narrative, The Syllabus, did not feature at all.

Apart from the Kenya Technical Teachers’ College which had exemplary performances, many other shows by public teacher training institutions have generally dwindled.

Speaking to The Standard during the gala last Sunday, the Kenya National Drama Festivals executive secretary, Patrick Khaemba, noted with concern that due to the stiff competition the colleges were dropping by the wayside.

“Standards in the festival are rising but it seems some of these teacher training colleges cannot cope hence their absence or inability to make it to the national stage,” says Khaemba.

The other giant that was missing was Marist International University College which broke into the scene in 2008 with an oral narrative, Mti Wetu, which won successive titles in the narrative and verse categories.

Most people – students and lecturers – interviewed were of the opinion that some college principals were stifling talent by putting much weight on their preferred activities like sports.

The drama festivals held every year has seen various artistes grow to be producers, script writers, directors and also media personalities.

By Jeckonia Otieno, The Standard

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