Francis Imbuga

Betrayal in the City

  • 18-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features an extended summary and 5 sections of expert analysis.
  • Written by a published author with a degree in English Literature
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Betrayal in the City Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 18-page guide for “Betrayal in the City” by Francis Imbuga includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Betrayal and Corruption.

Plot Summary

“Betrayal in the City” is a powerful play by African playwright Francis Imbuga. It was first published in 1976, and addresses the troublesome effects of freedom and independence in post-colonial African nations. These nations have been either repressed or reduced to everyday violence for so long that their inhabitants are left to wonder if they even have a say in their country’s future. This repression and/or violence often involves politics, with the very real monsters being those who hold power at the highest levels.

Though Africa is riddled with corrupt politicians, Imbuga’s play is careful not to name anyone in particular, thus keeping him safe from retaliation. In fact, Imbuga’s play is set in a fictional country, known as Kafira, and its characters not only have generic names, such as Boss, Tumbo and Mosese, but many have generic traits, allowing them to be anyone, from any country. Imbuga’s generic characters and setting work twofold in this way: they not only allow him to critique corrupt politicians and systems of government in Africa, they also transcend Africa due to their generic nature, thus pointing an accusatory finger at corrupt politicians and systems of government around the world.

The play itself begins by addressing the stark differences between African culture and inherited cultural systems in post-colonial Africa. These observations then shift to the plight of leadership positions in such a confused state of government and social identity. This observation includes the differences between those in power and those who follow these leaders, the so-called masses. What motivates both groups is the source of the play’s storyline and, on a larger scale, explains how these corrupt systems of government can operate in real life.

The play begins with two characters, Nina and Doga, who are in mourning. Their child has been killed in an organized demonstration against dictatorship and corruption. From the plight of Nina and Doga, the reader is then introduced to other characters that must face their bleak realities in a corrupt system of government, including Jusper and Mosese. Another character is Mulili, who is an illiterate soldier that has somehow become a high-ranking official now. Along with other cronies of the government, Mulili causes pain and sorrow for the people of Kafira.

Another plotline to the play deals with the suppression of artistic and intellectual freedom in repressive regimes, something that Imbuga knows firsthand, and one of the reasons he must mask his characters’ ethnicities. In the play, the reader sees this suppression firsthand in the story of Mosese. Mosese is a lecturer who is tasked with burying one of his students. He is told that no one can cry during the burial, and more importantly, that no one can make a speech. Mosese chooses to ignore this demand, however, and is jailed for his disobedience. Another character, Jusper, is attempting to write a play, but is told specifically what to say and how to say it.

More than anything, Imbuga’s play shows how Kafira is a country that devours its own people. No one really makes it out alive. Though materialism and patronage systems, such as nepotism, are rampant, even corrupt officials like Mulili are prone to infighting and desperate attempts to climb higher up the political ladder. Meanwhile, characters like Nina and Doga suffer and lose loved ones, not to mention the many nameless characters, such as the student body that has no voice due to government sanctions.

“Betrayal in the City” is powerful in its reach and subject matter, as well as its bleak portrayal of social and political diseases that rot from the top down. Indeed, by showing how complex the problem of corrupt government is, Imbuga’s play rightly positions itself as a strong voice in the continuous struggle for freedom, in Africa and other suffering countries.

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Act 1