Home / Interviews / Tribute to Wycliffe Kiyingi: His last interview

Tribute to Wycliffe Kiyingi: His last interview

There’s something queer about old architecture –innocent designs, well laid boundaries and that never fading feel of happiness. The moment you get to Wycliffe Kiyingi’s home in Mutundwe, you will be hit by the above, his well-kept house that’s probably more than forty years old, the neat compound and the trees that easily provide the shade, especially on a very hot day like this one.
His house is organized the old fashion way, different portraits of family members on the wall – most of them depict landmarks such as graduations and weddings.
As kiyingi sits in his living room, it’s clear that he gives it the presence that profoundly proves the statement that a house is not a home, unless there‘re people living in it. Even when he’s stuck in that wheel chair, he still got the charisma to talk, interact and receive visitors, but on more than one occasion, it’s visible that the difficulty in hearing and talking are failing him but his presence can’t be underestimated.
But before the health problems, kiyingi was buoyant optimistic playwright who was willing to utilize his talent even when he turned 80.
He’s the undisputed doyen of Ugandan theatre, worked in turbulent times, yet his plays are all non-partisan.
Kiyingi has written over ten books that have been widely translated and many directed into plays and many adopted into the Makerere University syllabus; it’s no surprise he was labeled “the encyclopedia of drama.”
While talking to The East African in 2010, Kiyingi wasn’t happy with Ugandan playwrights over what he termed as their thirst for quick money with hastily mounted productions that usually do not carry strong stories and messages.
“They don’t want to research let alone put thought into the plays. All they want is their audiences to laugh, in the process killing theatre,” he’s quoted to have said.
During his active days, Kiyingi penned plays such as Muka Sempala, W’okulira, Gw’osusa emwanyi, Olugendo lw’e Gologoosa and Muduuma kwe kwaffe, among others.  He also did many plays for both radio and TV, which makes him one of the few multimedia playwrights the country has had.
Muduuma kwe Kwafe, is based on a real life village in Mityana where Kiyingi was born on 30th December 1929 and stragely, one of the main characters in the original cast was from Muduuma.
The two-hour-and–half play directed by Kaya Kagimu Mukasa, showed at the National Theatre from February 14th and 15th.
With the help of stars like Phillip Luswata, Sophie Matovu, Edwin Mukalazi, Charles Bwanika and NTV’s Tony Muwangala among others, Kaya evoked Kiyingi’s nostalgia.
It rotates around the residents of Muduuma that are basically farmers but since they lack the means and facilitation, they only sell to Murji Patel () an exploitative Indian trader in the area. When the World War II veterans like Mudiima (Mukalazi) return, they influence residents to push for their independence so as to manage their finances like in the western countries they fought in.
This leads to a boycott of Indian businesses and dealings, residents declare it an abomination for any Ugandan to deal with any foreigner.
However, during the boycott, some residents start illegal dealings that see them sell Indians’ products disguised as their own even more residents started taking up jobs as cooks, housemaids and butlers in Indian homes. Corrupt officials started taking bribes and thus declaring a good number of Indians citizens.
As more events unfold, it was clear Kiyingi, even before Uganda got independence had prophesied that we would get it, mismanage our country and end up giving it back to those we fought so hard to get it from.
While independent, the rich residents of Muduuma made life difficult for the poor ones, even when the Indians were expelled, their shops and property was only given to the relatives and friends of those in power thus leaving out the likes of Mudiima who had engineered the struggle.
According to Kaya, Kiyingi writes with such brilliance that even while most of his plays were written before our 1962 independence, they reflect the current situation in Uganda.
“He’s a timeless writer whose products can be understood by all generations,” says Kaya, whose father Kagimu Mukasa was indeed friends with Kiyingi and part of the original cast.
Indeed, Sylvia Namukasa, one of the people in the audience on Friday can confirm this; “this play depicts the current situation, where most of us are working for foreign companies and the local ones are grassing.”
When the play was first staged in the 1950s, Kiyingi became one of the first Africans to have a play showcased at the National Theatre, then managed by the British. Its no surprise he’s seen as a moving spirit behind modern ugandan theatre, he founded the African Artiste Association, the first all Ugandan theatre company to promote local drama.
“Personally, I would class Wycliffe as Uganda’s Shakespeare. It’s interesting that a play he wrote about 50 years ago has stood the test of time,” says Mukalazi one of the actors.
During the celebrations to mark 50 years of the existence of the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC), Kiyingi was recognized with “A Golden Artist(1954-2009)” award and his play Mudduma Kwe Kwaffe, was then republished by Angelina Books. He also received the Golden Drama Award in 2007 for “The Most Prolific Multimedia Playwright,” from the Golden Drama Foundation.
His other book Gwosusa emwanyi is among the books for the O level examination syllabus.
Nevertheless, even when Kiyingi’s work is one befitting of an arch recognition, besides using his books in syllabuses both in schools and the university, the old man has not gained a lot from the works of his hands.
He has no idea that he’s work is being republished and thus making money for other people, and according Mrs. Kiyingi, they’ve never received a thing even from UNEB or the various drama groups that have staged the husband’s plays.
“it shouldn’t be a one way traffic, people invest time and money, the ministry should look into compersating people for their works and respect copyright,” says Francis Peter Ojede, the Executive Director Uganda National Cultural Centre.
Kiyingi leads a simple life now and on many occasions, it seems like he even forgets the magnitude of contribution he has for the Arts industry, he reveals that Muduuma’s genesis was in a simple text book that he kept for many years.
He’s memory is sharp and always looks like he wants to say more but he probably lacks the strength to, he refers to himself as “a simple man and Muduuma is a simple village.”
Andrew Benon Kibuuka of the Bakayimbira says that book wasn’t only a master piece but it also influenced people’s figure of speech, it’s because of the play that many Nkuba kyeyos started referring to Uganda as Muduuma.

Kiyingi picked interest in theatre when he was still young. His playwriting skills took off even before the MDD department was introduced at Makerere University. During the pre-independent Uganda, Andrew Cohen, the first governor granted him a scholarship to study drama at a professional level at Bristol University from where he further polished his skills at Oxford University in London.
As the curtains fall for one last time, for the play he wrote more than sixty years ago, one of the characters swears that he’s not leaving; he will not run, or be intimidated, he wants to be buried there since; Ku Muduuma kwe Kwaffe.

About Kaggwa Andrew

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