Characterization in Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City

Imbuga, Francis. Betrayal in the City Nairobi: East African Publishers Ltd, 1976


Mulili is  a high ranking military and government official. His relation to Boss made him get this high position despite his illiteracy. He exploits his closeness to Boss for his selfish gain by being loyal and Boss’ spy. Mulili is a major villain in the plain.

He is cruel/callous/brutal

Mulili is responsible for the death of Kabito, Nina and Doga. He is also keen to enforce Boss’ orders to the letter, however brutal. His character is contrasted with Jere’s when they are deployed in the village to prevent the shaving ceremony from going on. While Jere is overcome by pity on seeing Nina and Doga mourning their son, Mulili is unshaken and he insists that the ceremony must be put off. After quarrelling with Kabito, Mulili plans his murder and makes it look like an accident.

He is vengeful

Whenever Mulili disagrees with someone, the person faces his wrath one way or the other. When he quarrels with Jere over Adika’s shaving ceremony, Mulili instigates Jere’s arrest right after it. Kabito meets his untimely end after crossing Mulili’s path. Nina and Doga, the old couple, are also killed by Mulili.

He is traitorous

Mulili is only loyal to any cause as long as he has individual gains to make from the cause. He is loyal to Boss when he has power because he is corruptly awarded public land and tenders. He does not care about other citizens of Kafira, the likes of Nina and Doga, who are oppressed by Boss’ regime.

When Mosese and his team overthrow Boss, Mulili conveniently denies his relation to Boss calling him “a distant cousin.”

Mulili can also be described as: ignorant, hot tempered, selfish/greedy, egocentric/egoistic

Mulili provides an example of selfish people who betray other citizens for material gain from dictatorial regime. Mulili also plays a big role in the development of such themes as corruption, nepotism and bad governance. As a government adviser, Mulili has been used to satirize African leaders who rely on ignorant people for advice.

His speech is a source of humour for the audience which serves to relieve the tension in the course of the play.

 Mosese wa Tonga

He is a senior university lecturer and brother to Regina. He was previously called Nicodemus but he dropped the name after he was framed by Nicodemo to go to prison. In the large part of the play Mosese is a political detainee in prison because of a speech he made at Adika’s funeral.

Mosese is courageous

He had the courage criticise the government during Adika’s funeral knowing very well that the government would come after him. Just a day after the funeral he was framed and arrested.

He is cynical/ pessimistic

Mosese is seen to be hopeless about any change being realized in Kafira. He says, “during the speeches at Adika’s funeral, I learned the bitter truth. Kafira wasn’t going to change after all”

It is therefore evident that Mosese has given up hope on Kafira. He advises Jusper to stop agitating against the government for this reason. At first he does not want to participate in the play.

Mosese is Principled

He says he cannot compromise his principles for anything including his own freedom. He even cannot allow his sister Regina to plead for his release and he is not even ready to participate in a play by prisoners since to him that is to “bend so low.”


It is evident that Mosese loves his country Kafira. He is very much angered by what is happening in Kafira. He criticises the government even when it is risky to do so. He tells Jere “it was better while we waited. Now we have nothing to look forward to. We have killed our past and are busy killing our future … Our children will never have such memories.” Mosese going to prison is like a sacrifice he makes to change his country. Furthermore, he agrees to participate in the play in order to secure the freedom of six hundred prisoners. As Jere puts it this was “sacrificing their dignity in order to rescue others from inevitable misery.” He later on becomes instrumental in freeing the country when he takes part in overthrowing the government.


Mosese represents the educated elite who sacrifice themselves to improve their countries. Throughout the play Mosese is seen to be having a dream of a better Kafira. He plays a big role in the development of the theme of patriotism. Imbuga uses him to tell readers that a true patriot should be ready to use their education and intellect to change their country for the better.


Boss is the head of state of Kafira. Was a military officer before taking power through a coup.  He is portrayed as a weak ruler who is easily influenced by his advisors. He is responsible for most of Kafira’s problems either directly or indirectly. At the end of the play Boss is overthrown.

He is dictatorial /authoritarian/ intolerant

He leads Kafira with an iron fist and he is not ready to seek other people’s opinions. A few years of his rule has seen many imprisoned for expressing their opinion and others assassinated for the same. Boss is feared by his subjects and his advisors alike. This fear is expressed by Tumbo when preparing for the rehearsal.

He extents this intolerance even to his family. When his wife protests that he had tried to have sex with Regina, Boss locks her up.

Boss is corrupt

Boss has engages in various forms of corrupt activities including nepotism, abuse of office and stealing of public property. Boss is came to power through a military coup. He thereafter uses the military and police to preserve his power therefore denying citizens of Kafira the chance to elect their leaders. He has surrounded himself with relatives and cronies who are holding powerful government offices which they are not qualified to hold. Tumbo and Mulili are good examples. He allocates public property to his cronies in order to earn their loyalty. In Mulili’s case he is allocated land for being loyal to Boss. Boss uses the powers of his offices to benefit and protect himself. He detains and eliminates people who differ with his opinions, for instance Mosese and Adika.

Mulili reveals that Boss is hiding property in foreign nations which may have been acquired illegally by Boss.

He tries to have sex with Regina in exchange for her brother’s freedom. When Regina refuses Boss tries to rape her.


It is evident that Boss does not have Kafira’s best interest at heart. Instead he is concerned with enriching himself  and protecting his power. Life in Kafira has deteriorated thanks to his bad leadership which has bred corruption. He has swamped Kafira with expatriates at the expense of citizens of Kafira. He also hides money in foreign banks.

He is immoral/ promiscuous

Tumbo reveals that Boss has a weakness for women. This is more evident when he attempts to rape Regina.


Boss represents poor leadership and bad governance in Africa. He serves as an example of a dictator who, guided by his greed for power and wealth, ruins his country. The rife corruption and brutality of his regime teaches the audience the demerits of autocratic and military systems of government. The overthrowing of Boss’ government is a lesson to the reader that such governments have no place in the modern world.


He was initially a soldier before he fell out with Mulili and become a prisoner. He becomes instrumental in the coup that finally rids Kafira of Boss’ government.

He is brave/ courageous

Jere confronts Mulili fearlessly when they quarrelled over whether the old couple should be allowed to carry on with their ceremony. When it is clear that they could not agree he shoots at Mulili yet he knows that he is Boss’ relative.

He is understanding

He easily understands the plight of Nina and Doga and argues with Mulili to let them have the ceremony.

He is rebellious

He refuses to affect the orders his is sent to carry out at Adika’s graveyard. Instead, he tries to let the ceremony go on.

Jere can also be described as: patriotic, incorruptible, forgiving and intelligent.


Jere plays an active role in liberating Kafira. He therefore represents resistance to corrupt and dictatorial regimes. He is an example of patriotic, incorruptible and courageous citizens who readily sacrifice themselves for the good of their nation.


Tumbo is Boss’ right hand man -even though he is semi-literate. He carries out tasks for the leader of Kafira. This has earned him wealth, power and a bad reputation among citizens. He is Regina’s landlord and the chair of  the committee in charge of the visiting head of state’s entertainment.

He is selfish/ materialistic/ unpatriotic /corrupt

Being a beneficiary of Boss’ corrupt regime Tumbo ignores the plight of other citizens of Kafira who bear the brunt of their government’s corruption and brutality. Instead of using his powerful position to give Boss advice that might improve his leadership style, he busies himself with accumulating wealth through corruption.

He confesses to Jusper that he sold his university scholarship.

He also tells Jusper that one should enrich himself first before he can try speaking for others. He says this in effort to discourage Jusper from protesting against the government and to defend his laxity to criticise the government.

He fraudulently awards Jusper the contract to write the play and splits the money between them. He does not conduct the play writing competition as was required but plans to publish a report saying that it was held and Jusper won.

He advises Regina to go see Boss about her brother’s release knowing well what might happen there. This makes Tumbo the kind of man that can readily sacrifice their friends just to preserve their power.

He is timid/ fearful

Tumbo is careful to preserve his life, power and the good relation he has with Boss. He never questions Boss’ decision in fear of consequences. During the committee meeting he sides with Mulili to avoid confrontation with him. Even though he knew that Boss has “a weakness for women” he encourages Regina to go see him. She escapes both rape and death narrowly when she jumps out of the window.

Tumbo can also be described as: generous, cautious etc


Tumbo represents the corrupt, self-serving and unpatriotic leaders who use their power to amass wealth while neglecting their duty. He exemplifies people who blindly carry out orders of their superiors without questioning their rationale or daring to advise their superiors against bad decisions.

He also serves as an example of an incompetent, inefficient official who got power through dubious means and is therefore eager to please his master by doing whatever he is ordered without question.

You can also watch the play

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