Thematic concerns in Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City

Thematic concerns in Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City

Thematic concerns in Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City

Dictatorship/ bad governance

The play Betrayal in the City us an illustration of how bad governance can wreck a country.

Kafira is depicted as an African country plagued by bad governance and the many ills that thrive in that climate including corruption, nepotism and favouritism and brutality and the violation of human rights.

Like many African countries kafira’s problem begun with a military coup that placed Boss, a military officer, in the seat of power. Thereafter Boss established a dictatorial government that crushes any form of opposition with lethal force.

When students protest against the government decision to hire expatriate workers at the expense of local labour force, the government crushes the protest with extreme force leading to the death of Adika. Mosese ends up in prison after condemning the government for killing Adika.

In a show of impunity the government reacts to the protest by hiring more expatriate workers.

Inorder to preserve its power Kafira’s government appoints cronies and relatives into powerful positions in the government. This sees the likes of Tumbo, Mulili, Kabito and Nicodemo occupy powerful positions than they qualify for.

Considering that most cronies are appointed because of their relation to Boss rather than their professional competence, the result is that their duties are poorly executed. Also, knowing that their relation to Boss makes them untouchable, the appointees embezzle public funds, abuse the offices and grab public property without any accountability.

Mulili is an example of such beneficiaries. He is made a high ranking military official despite being illiterate. Tumbo is another example of people appointed to powerful positions in the government without professional qualifications. After the coup Mosese tells him that the coup was only possible because of Tumbo’s inefficiency.

Boss’ dictatorial regime arrests and detains anyone who criticises it therefore infringing on its citizen’s right of expression. This is evident when Mosese is framed and arrested for criticising the government over Adika’s murder. Jere too ends up in prison when he decides to let Nina and Doga continue with their shaving ceremony.

Bad governance leads to poverty, disillusionment, fear among Kafira’s citizens resulting in civil unrest and demonstrations by university students. It is this dissatisfaction that finally leads the coup that brings down Boss’ government.


Betrayal is the act of being disloyal to a person, ones country or a cause. There are numerous acts  of betrayal in Imbuga’s play Betrayal in the City.

Kafira’s government betrays its citizens. The government is obligated to serve and protect its citizen’s right. To the contrary, Boss’ regime violates their rights. Furthermore government official engage in acts of corruption putting the common citizens at a disadvantage.

The government reacts to the students protests with excessive force leading to Adika death. Mosese and Jere are arrested for expressing views that contradict government policies. Also, by denying Nina and Doga their right to hold the shaving ceremony in honour of Adika, the government is betraying them since it is obligated to protect their freedom yet its the one denying them.

The high ranking officials in the Kafira government are also betraying citizens of Kafira. Mr. Tumbo is aware that the government has wronged the people of Kafira but is not ready to stand up against Boss. He advises Jusper to stop agitating for better government and instead enjoy the benefits of supporting it.

By putting their interests before the collective interests of Kafira citizens, Mulili, Tumbo, Kabito and Nicodemo have betrayed the country.

When jusper agrees to write a play to be staged for the visiting head of state it is seen as an act of betrayal by university students. Consequently, he is fired from being a student leader.

Mulili betrays his cousin Boss after the coup. When asked whether Boss should be killed he says that Boss is just a distant cousin and that there is no reason he shouldn’t be killed.

During the coup Jusper betrays the cause of the coup by killing Mulili in revenge. The coup was supposed to be bloodless and one that would put an end to the cycle of killings in Kafira. But by killing Mulili, Jusper has continued the cycle.

In order to arrest  Mosese, Nicodemo plants opium in Mosese. Mosese is then arrested for possession of drugs since he could not be arrested for incitement. Nicodemo disturbed that should Mosese be set free it would mean a “personal tragedy” for him.



Corruption refers to acts of dishonesty especially among people in authority. It may take such forms as bribery, kickbacks, nepotism, favoutitism, tribalism, stealing and pilfering etc

In the play Betrayal in the City corruption is evidently a wide spread vice in Kafira. Boss’ regime uses corruption to preserve its power by rewarding its sycophants with public property and power. Mulili and Tumbo are made high ranking government officers even though they are illiterate.

The entertainment committee is evidently a group of incompetent people who are onlu interested in the size of the “potato”. They spend more time discussinf the pau that working. In order to earn more moner they decide to meet more often. Kabito is found sleeping before the meeting and Mulili comes late.

Bribery is evident when Kabito confesses that he ‘spent the whole of last night being nice to poeple’ in order to get the lucrative tender. The tender is later awarded to Mulili after he calls for Boss’ personal intervention.

Jusper is fraudulently awarded the contract to write the play by Mr. Tumbo, probably because Jusper is Regina’s ‘cousin’ in the paper. Instead of conducting a playing writing competition as was appropriate, Tumbo just awards Jusper the contract to write the play. He also promises to publish the news of  “Juspers play winning the competition” in the papers.

Mulili is loyal to Boss because he has allocated public land. He uses his closeness  to Boss to enrich himself and to settle his vendettas. When he quarrels with Kabito he lies to Boss so as to get his blessing to kill Kabito.

The situation in Kafira is best captured by Askari in jail when he says that “you need a tall relative to get anything in Kafira these days.  Corruption impoverishes the citizens of Kafira by denying them deserved opportunities and robbing them of public property. The common citizens are there reduced to second class citizens who only benefit when the powerful individuals want. As Jusper puts it, the fruits of  independence reach them [common citizens] second hand.


Conflict refers to the absence of peace. Conflicts can be between individuals, between groups or  within an individual. Conflicts will also vary from subtle differences in opinion to open violent hostility.

Betrayal in the City presents several conflicts. There is a conflict between Boss’ government and citizens of Kafira. The conflict arises from Boss’ mode of governance and some of his decisions. University student demonstrate in protest of the government’s decision to hire expatriate workers at the expense of local manpower. This conflict is further aggravated by Adika’s murder by the police during the protest. To avenge Adika’s death Jusper kills Chagaga –the policeman that shot his brother. This leads to Jusper’s arrest.

Mosese ends up in prison after criticizing the government for the murder of Adika. He is framed for possession of drugs to be arrested.

Jere and Mulili fight when they disagree over whether or not to let Nina and Doga proceed with their ceremony. Jere shots at Mulili during the fight and is later arrested and jailed for it.

Mulili and Kabito quarrel over a lucrative university milk tender. The two had competed for it but Mulili won it after involving Boss. This annoys Kabito since he had bribed people to get the tender. Mulili cunningly eliminates Kabito with Boss’ permission.

These conflicts are motivated by different things varying from the quest for power, greed for wealth, desire for revenge and difference in opinion. The conflict between citizens and Boss’ government culminates in the overthrowing of the government by Mosese, Jere and Jusper.



Revenge is the act causing harm to somebody in retaliation to the wrongs they did you. In Betrayal in the City several characters engage in acts of revenge. Revenge is motivated by anger.

During the committee meeting, Nicodemo, being the one that planted drugs in Mosese’s car, is opposed to the idea of Mosese being set free. He is afraid that Mosese might seek retribution against him.

After fighting with Jere, Mulili instigated Jere’s arrest and imprisonment. This is in revenge to Jere’s attempt to shoot him.

After Jere, Mosese and Jusper takeover the government, Jusper shoots Mulili in revenge for the murder of his parents.

Jere and Mosese try to stop the cycle of revenge by not killing anybody but these efforts become in vain when Mulili is shot by Jusper.


The role of the educated elite in the society

The educated elite enjoy a special status in any society. They normally looked up at to provide intellectual solutions and leadership when problems arise.

In Betrayal in the City the elite include: Mosese, Adika, Jusper, Jere and the University Students.

Living at a time when most citizens are disillusioned this group provides intellectual solutions to Kafira’s leadership problems.

The University students demonstrate against the government for hiring foreign nationals. When Adika is short it is Mosese who condemns the government first putting himself in danger.

Mosese agrees to take part in the play in exchange for the freedom of political prisoners. Juspers devices a clever plan to topple Boss’ government in a bloodless coup. It is his plan that finally sets Kafira free.

University students continue protesting against the government even in the face of obvious danger. The disillusioned public the likes of Regina and Tumbo see the students as people who are too idealistic to understand the reality in Kafira.

It is the collective efforts of the elite in the play that finally brings down Boss’ government. Imbuga’s message to the educated elite in any society is that they are obligated to provide leadership to the masses even in times of political distress.



This refers to foreign interference in local culture and politics of an independent nation.

Kafira is described as an independent country but still influenced by foreign countries. This is evidenced by the fact that Boss goes out of his way in trying to please the visiting head of state. He orders that a play be staged by prisoners for the visiting president’s entertainment. It is obvious that Kafira’s government is desperate to appease him probably in order to get a favour from him.

The issue of expatriate workers is also another instance of neo-colonisation. It is hard to understand why a country would hire foreigners at the expense of its own manpower. This decision causes much dissatisfaction among Kafira citizens.


Other themes in the play include:





Violence/ brutality


Favouritism/ nepotism

see also: The Caucasian Chalk Circle (by Bertolt Brecht) Excerpt question 3 :Betrayal in the City (by Francis Imbuga)- Essay questions ;SOCIAL STRUGGLE/CLASS STRUGGLE/ CLASS WARFARE IN THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE ; The River And The Source – Margaret Ogola [Review] ; Theme of Justice in The Caucasian Chalk Circle (by Bertolt Brecht) ; BETRAYAL IN THE CITY -PLOT SUMMARY ; Marxism in Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle ; ANALYSIS OF HARUKI MURAKAMI’S THE MIRROR BY ;The Caucasian Chalk Circle (by Bertolt Brecht) – song as a style

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *