Kampala theatre festival turns to lived experience

BAMUTARAKI MUSINGUZI from the Daily Monitor writes about his experience at the 2023 Kampala International Theatre Festival. This story was published in the Saturday Edition of the Daily Monitor on 9th December 2023.


12/9/20234 min read

George Bwanika Seremba’s Come Good Rain, one of the captivating and moving plays at the 2023 Kampala International Theatre Festival (KITF), tells the story of Uganda’s troubled history through the main character’s own experience. Seremba was abducted, tortured, and eventually left for dead in Uganda’s notorious Namanve Forest Reserve, 13kms east of Kampala City on the Kampala-Jinja highway. In the opening play at recently-ended KITF staged at the National Theatre in Kampala, Performed in English by Seremba, the play is set in Uganda during the turbulent and murderous regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin in the 1970s and 1980s. It chronicles Seremba’s life as a young man growing up and witnessing the reckless abandon in Uganda at the time.


Combining African mythology, history, and dynamic narrative (and the presence of an African drummer), Come Good Rain emerges finally as a celebration of the indefatigable nature of the human spirit. Seremba is a Ugandan artist based in Canada. Having travelled the globe with Come Good Rain, performing it more than 300 times, this was Seremba’s homecoming and inaugural performance in Uganda. He had to flee to save his life in the early 1980s. This year’s KITF edition that ran from November 22 to 26 was held at three venues in Kampala—the National Theatre, Ndere Cultural Centre, and Motiv.

Dynamic lineup KITF 2023 showcased a dynamic lineup of theatrical performances from local and international artists, exploring the theme of “a decade of thought-provoking performances with stories that transcend the stage and magnify the reality of the human experience.” It unveiled a spectacular showcase of cultural diversity, innovation, artistic expression and excellence. Audiences were treated to a rich tapestry of performances: full length productions, audio dramas, play readings, comedy, poetry, conversations, workshops, and music.

The performances were Collapse in Space by Citizen Kane Entertainment Kollektiv from Germany; Because I Always Feel Like Running by Ogutu J Muraya (Kenya); Root of all Evil by King Colman Otunga (Uganda); Nomad by Christine Mbabazi (Uganda); Zabaton by Kaaya Kagimu Mukasa (Uganda); Sunbird by Norman Ssentumbwe Kabuuza (Uganda); We Are Us directed by Zaza Muchemwa from Zimbabwe, which featured a series of plays; How are You Really?; Overcrowded; Delta Estate; and Raw Fruit.

Root of all Evil is about the people who lost money in a ponzi scheme by the organisation Caring for Orphans, Women and the Elderly (COWE) in Uganda in 2008. Ndyanabo, the main character in the play, one of the victims, goes through trials to make sure he and his family survive the aftermath of this tragedy.

Because I Always Feel Like Running is a lecture performance by the Kenyan writer and theatre maker Ogutu J Muraya. As he tells his story, he makes his way through the history of running, as it caused a furore from Africa in the West since the 1960s. Muraya tells stories of famous men like Abebe Bikila, who won two gold medals for Ethiopia in the marathon at the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games respectively, and John Stephen Akhwari (Tanzania), who dislocated his knee and shoulder after a fall at the 1968 Olympic Games. But the pain, perseverance and tenacity Muraya describes are about much more. The rise of long-distance runners coincides with processes of decolonisation and the emergence of independent states in East Africa. Nomad examines the effects and aftereffects of war on Joshua Karemela’s family across decades spanning a life lived in four countries (Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda).

Zabaton tells the story of a spirited young adult who leaves his parents’ abusive home. Zabaton lives for one purpose—to find a happy and peaceful home for the family he has left. His plan is disrupted when he is confronted by a brutal street gang, and the city authority that threatens the existence of the only family he has.

The street gang causes him to lose one member of his family. Against all odds, he manages to bury the dead.

Dance and poetry

Poetry performances were Look At Us by Mitch Isabirye (Uganda), and But She Wanted It by Peter Kaggayi (Uganda). Lillian Nabaggala (Uganda) took to the stage with a dance production Faded, and Zoey the Storyteller (Uganda) performed The Snake Around Baba’s Waist. Kenneth Kimuli, aka Pablo (Uganda) closed the festival with a comedy show Pablo and Friends. There were masterclasses on Acting for Stage and Screen conducted by Sandy Egan (Los Angeles), and Directing for Audio conducted by Erik Altorfer (Switzerland) and Lulu Jemimah (Uganda). In her speech on the opening night, Deborah Asiimwe Kawe, the KITF artistic director, disclosed that on November 26 in 2014, outside the auditorium, in the National Theatre foyer, with participating artists from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, together with a very excited Ugandan audience and people from elsewhere, the KITF was inaugurated.

“We inaugurated the theatre festival knowing quite well that in the past, no theatre festival in this country had survived its fifth birthday, but we also knew that we were standing on the shoulders and incredible sacrifices of many Ugandan theatre makers that paved the way for us to tell our stories on our own terms and without apology…,” Asiimwe said.

She added: “Kampala International Theatre Festival is currently the only international theatre festival in Uganda. When we started the festival, the plan was for it to be for the East African artists only. But after the first edition, my colleagues and I quickly realised the importance of our artists interacting with their counterparts from elsewhere.”

George Bwanika Seremba performs in Come Good Rain during the Kampala International Theatre Festival (KITF) at the National Theatre in Kampala on November 22. PHOTO/ COURTESY by AKA Diamond Media