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Dramatizing Atrocities: Plays by Wale Soyinka, Francis Imbuga, and George Seremba Recalling the Idi Amin Era MODUPE OLAOGUN Idi Amin, who ruled Uganda from 1971 to ' 979, was nol Ihe only dictator noted for atrocities. In Africa in the second half of the twentieth century, men of the proverbial iron fist rose and fell, to be replaced by olhers: Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Macias Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, Emperor Bedel Bokassa in the Cenlral African Republic, Sergeant Samuel Doe in Liberia, General Siad Barre in Somalia, luvenal Habyarimana in Rwanda, Hissene Habn, in Chad, General Sanni Abacha in Nigeria, and so on. From other parts of the world, a roll call of some of the most notorious regimes would take in Cambodia 's Pol Pot (SOIOlh Sar), Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Romania's Nicolae Ceaucsescu, and Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic. The atrocities associated with these rulers include torture and mass murder. The reoccurrence of such atrocities makes them seem almost banal. In representing atrocities, how can plays convey the full impact and implications of what has happened without succumbing to sensationalism? How can playwrights provoke a deep response from an audience, emotional and intellectual, rather Lhan repulsion? Amin's brutalities were astounding in scale and method. On attempts to record Amin's atrocities, Mahmood Mamdani expressed some misgivings in 1983: "Why write another book on the Amin regime?" he asked. "The bookstalls are already full of books that thrive on the sensational, detailing the dictator 's exploits in violence and sex. Like mindless computers, the authors of such books add up the number of deaths, tortures, assaults, robberies, wives, concubines and rapes indiscriminately [...J. Even a people's suffering is subject matter for the profit sharks" (I). It has been more than twenty years since Amin fell, but the continuing interest in his rule suggests the difficulty of achieving an easy closure on his era. This article explores the contributions to the representation of the Amin era of three plays - A Playa/Giants (1984) by Wale Soyinka, Man 0/ Kafira (1984) by Francis Imbuga, and Come Good Rain (1993, first performed t992) by George Seremba. It examines the manModern Drama, 45:3 (Fall 2002) 430 Dramatizing Atrocities: Soyinka, Imbuga, and Seremba 43t ner in which the devices in the plays, especially the deployments of the tropes of theatricality, provoke particular responses. The playwrights' tackling of a similar subject matter derives in part from the character of the subject: few dictators have surpassed Amin in notoriety. Seremba originates from Uganda, Imbuga from Kenya, and Soyinka from Nigeria. For all these playwrights, the chill of Amin's rule would have been felt quite close. When A Play of GianlS and Mall of Kafira were first published, the legacy of the Amin era was apparent in Uganda, for instance, in a culture of repression and in the political instability that ravaged, and continues to threaten, the country. But although Come Good Rain debuted nearly a decade after A Play of GianlS and Man of Kafira and thirteen years after the events which it describes, its dramatization is quite poignant. The three playwrights take different approaches, but together they provoke a complementary portrait of the Am in era and suggest that there is a propensity on the part of megalomaniacs and potential megalomaniacs to desire centre stage in a world that they treat like a theatre and subsequently to exploit their audience through their strategic association and dissociation with it. The three plays foreground the elements of theatricality in the operations of the atrocious regimes that they depict. In confronting their subject, the plays use theatrical devices in a heightened manner. A Play ofGiants is a close-up portrait of four dictators - modelled on Amin, Mobutu, Nguema, and Bokassa - who demonstrate their death operations as they pose for a sculptor. Man of Kafira capitalizes on the device of the play-within-a-play, which also suggests a hall of mirrors, to highlight the theatricality of an exiled megalomaniac, a thinly veiled Amin, haunted by his past atrocities but dreaming of reclaiming his lost power. Come Good Rain is an autobiographical monologue in which the narrator impersonates the play's thirty-one "characters" to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 430-448
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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