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Wycliff Kiyingi; Uganda’s unsung literary hero

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Wycliff Kiyingi; Uganda’s unsung literary hero

Wycliff Kiyingi

Wycliff Kiyingi is considered by many literature enthusiasts as one of the greatest Ugandan theatre writers of all time. In his illustrious career as a writer that spanned over half a century, Kiyingi emerged along with literary greats like Michael B. Nsimbi and Edward Kawere to become one of Uganda’s finest playwrights.

As further testament to his impeccable talent and skill, Kiyingi has won numerous awards including the Pilsner Lager-sponsored Most Prolific Multi-media Playwright award that was organised by the Golden Drama Foundation last year. In addition, the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) adopted one of his plays Lozio Bba Sesiriya for inclusion in the literature school syllabus for S.6 candidates.

Kiyingi indeed wrote many great Luganda plays, notably; Gwosussa Emmwanyi, Lozio Bba Ssesiriya, Olugendo lw’e Gologoosa, and the Radio play Wókulira which ran on the then Radio Uganda for close to two decades. In other countries, Kiyingi’s works would have earned him a top  national medal or street, building named after him, which is still not yet the case.

But one of his most acclaimed works, Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe, is considered by many critics as a watershed moment in the history of drama in Uganda for the way it tackled contemporary issues such as corruption, greed, lack of business acumen among Ugandans, in extraordinarily simple ways.

In recognition of the relevance to contemporary life as well as his superb script, the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC) has decided to support its reproduction and staging at the National Theatre this Valentine’s weekend; Feb 14 and 15.

As remarked by Kaya Kagimu Mukasa, who is directing its reproduction at the National Theatre, Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe is a timeless play.

“It’s basically about the law of the pecking order. Although it is set in 1945, the dynamics that worked then are the dynamics that work today. It’s only the magnitude that is different.

Kagimu remarks about the play; “At the time, the Ugandan economy was dominated by Asians and Ugandans didn’t have that much skill in managing businesses because they didn’t have that much exposure.

“Today we still have expatriates but most ordinary Ugandans still do not have the financial muscle. I mean, there is still a difference in the way we manage things compared to Westerners. That is why when people go to well-managed institutions, you will likely here them make comments like, ‘bali ebintu babikola kizungu’ literally meaning, ‘those people manage things like whites’

“Kiyingi has a way he writes about ordinary people in the most extraordinary ways. It makes you think that in life we face almost similar challenges, whether you are rich or poor,” Kaya further acknowledges Kiyingi as someone who approached very serious issues of the day in a very simple and humorous way.”

Partly as a way to seek his permission to re-stage Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe, as well as pay homage to one of Uganda’s greatest play-writes, the new Director of the National Theatre Francis Peter Ojede, accompanied by Kaya Kagimu and renowned artist Andrew Benon Kibuuka visited Kiyingi last week.

Perched in a wheelchair in his fairly old but still respectable home in Mutungo, a suburb of Kampala, we discovered that Kiyingi hasn’t lost his typical sense of simplicity to life.

As Ojede noted, they want to live true to their goals of building bridges between UNCC and the artist community.

While reminiscing with his guests about the good old days at the National Theatre as well as about inspirations for his work, Kiyingi, now 85, proved he hasn’t lost his old simple persona.

Asked about what inspired him to write such a great play, Kiyingi replied quite simply that he’s a simple man who writes simple things.

Kiyingi is a special writer if you ask people familiar with him, such as Kaya Kagimu who grew up playing in his compound and have later on been nourished by his work.

“Because he stammered a lot, he was never articulate. He therefore did not direct or play on stage. His talent was to write,” recollects Kagimu.

At 85, Kiyingi is the only surviving literary greats of his era. His contemporaries such as Nsimbi who wrote books like Olulimi Oluganda, Kawere who wrote Omuzimu gwa Kasooba have since joined their ancestors.

According to Kagimu, Kiyingi managed to build a home and educate his children entirely from his writing.

Kagimu however joined her colleague artists in condemning the usage of Kiyingi’s works either by the government and other artists without seeking the writer’s consent, let alone pay him royalties for using his intellectual property.

Ojede noted that as a way of promoting art in the country, he would ensure that those that use copyrighted material, pay royalties to content creators.  

Now in the evening of his days, the question is being asked as to who can step into Kiyingi’s shoes.

His advanced age and ill-health, as well as the death of his contemporaries, have left a huge void on the literary landscape of Uganda, that is of growing concern to many artists.

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