Review: The Roses of Sir Kenyapesacus




This 5-Act play features Kenyapesa, a leader of the people in an unnamed community. Like most politicians, he fills people’s minds and hearts with promises – yet to be fulfilled four years later. The people are complaining and the media features his abuse of office. When Jose, his assistant explains to him that it is the people who elected him, he says, “The word ‘elected’ is in past tense. Completed! Done! Finished!” Meaning he has no use for them anymore. A typical crafty one, Kenyapesa threatens to sue the journalists for slander (which he has been heftily compensated for previously).

The fountains of water for the community lie in the communal land.  The once green lush is cleared and trees cut to plant roses for export. To the people’s complaints, Kenyapesa says “The Roses are our roses, all of us!” and “Let’s say they (people) benefit in the second degree. If as their leader I benefit, then we can say they also benefit.”

Since no environmental impact assessment was done before the roses are  planted, the effects are dire –interference with the source of clean water and drought. The communal dam has dried up too. The water that freely flew and on which the community relied, is now used to water Kenyapesa’s farm. A lot of money from ‘foreign investors’ is at stake, which he cannot afford to lose. When women try to draw water from the ‘communal farm’, Jose blocks them citing it ‘private property and that their ownership is not absolute.’

Miranda, Kenyapesa’s wife and nurse at the local clinic, confronts him about the lack of water. He says, “I can be many things but I cannot be a rainmaker.”

Doctor Tumno diagnoses Affluenza. It is no surprise that when Miranda says that many people are sick because they lack clean water to drink, Maria, her daughter asks, “Why don’t they drink mineral water, mum?” fuelling the conflict. Ironically, Kenyapesa gets an Affluenza scare and even confides in Doctor Tumno that he is very careful about his health. Although he goes for medical check-ups abroad, he is ignorant of the fact that he could also contract air borne diseases – caused by his actions.

The complaints from the people do not seem to die off as fast as Kenyapesa had thought. Doctor Tomno, Kenyapesa’s former schoolmate and archenemy leads the opposition movement.

Kenyapeasa has to resort to lies and bribery against Demas’ (Chairperson of the Council of Elders) advice that “Not everything in life is settled by money.” To Miranda’s question on what drives his urge for more money, Kenyapesa says, “money rhymes with honey; poverty with dirty.” The question of money seems to be a great driver in the play. Tumno asks, “How much money does a man really need?” drawing a parallel to Leo Tolstoy’s famous short story, ‘How much Land does a Man Need?’

His last resort is bribing a journalist to ‘blunt the blades of reality’ by writing what Kenyapesa calls ‘alternative truths’.

The picture in this play presents a shared responsibility to good leadership and governance. That since no man is his own man, crafty politicians cannot make it up or stay in power without the backing of corruptible individuals (and psychopaths) as Jose.

By pitting Miranda against her husband (and her abandonment), the author seems to back up the claim that ‘it doesn’t matter who it is, we should never compromise on leadership’.

Extremely familiar and thematically relevant to the Kenyan political scene (lies, corruption, betrayal, abuse of office etc.), one could easily fill up the plot through the characters of; a greedy politician, the voters and a man fighting for the rights of the people. But hey, not so easy. For the language use, the humour and allusion, this play deserves a read.

The people, unsatisfied with Kenyapesa’s lies, oust him and chant Tumno’s name. Doctor Tumno diagnoses Kenyapesa as a breed of person with an insatiable desire for pesa, money. His character is contagious and it is from it that the community ails. In the end, power lies in the people; to choose and sustain the elected – but only if they are united.