Book summary Reviews

Play; The Barbed Wire

The barbed wire is a Ugandan play with six scenes written by Rugyendo Mukotani. The play is said to be for the struggling peasants and workers who can no longer be mystified that things have always been as they are and shall forever be. One man takes all and leaves the majority hungry even with license from the government.

The play would be summarized in scenes

Scene one

Birakwate, a peasants return from his sales of peas (which were already rotten) to meet his neighbour Nyamuganya, cutting a bush near a path. They greet and Birakwate engages him in a conversation, a bitter conversation.

Birakwate and Nyamuganya laments that the richest man in the community, Rwambura is being greedy again and has started clearing the swamp that initially is for the entire community.

why can’t people be satisfied in this world?” Says Nyamuganya and they go further to analysing his possessions “the man has a house of which I don’t know how many storeys, He has three motor cars, as for bananas, he sends a full lorry to Kampala every week, Exotic cattle… He now has eight hundred of them and two thousand chickens, these days he is the one who feeds the whole town with milk and eggs. And that is not all, do you know the other big shop near the market which is called the Bakiga stores?…. And the other building which is rented by the shoemakers…. And I hear he has a petrol station…..I also heard he has got license to buy gold and silver…. How does he get all that?…… Bribes…”

They conclude by saying perhaps we may find that he loves us and has chosen to help us by cutting the swamp for us!


Scene two

Rwambura requests to see the people, calls Birakwate who makes sure Nyamuganya, Rwankwisi who is one of the oldest in the village, Furida(widow) and Marito  and others come along to the swamp. They all marveled that the whole place was cleared in just one day and then a drainage added to it.

Rwambura asks them to take their portion of land on the swamp and get to work on it. Birakwate reminds him about  government bringing tractor and clearing the swamp as they said ” when I went to ask they told me they did not get the tractors. And this means we could spend another ten years or so without cultivating the wealth which is in our swamp”  he replied the people.

As soon as he left, they murmured amongst each other “if this man doesn’t cheat us?….(Nyamuganya)… No he won’t cheat us he is our son…(Rwankwisi)…. Never trust people like him(Furida)…

They could all agree on one proverbs before leaving They say he who watches the hare must keep on the alert!

They Exit

Scene three

After about one and half years, Furida and Marita tending to the maize on their portion, almost ready for another sowing of sorghum. Rwambura returns to meet the two women and informs them that he has come to collect his field back, they must have fed their bellies to a satisfaction. He gives they two whole days to harvest all their crops or the tractor will in two days time.

Before he leaves, he meets Birakwate and tells him the same thing he said to the women to throw them into gnashing teeth’s and then he left.

Birakwate told Marita and Furida to let everyone know and Friday morning let every man gather with whatever he can lay hold of, a stick, a hoe, a stone… Let’s see whether he can move us….

They exit

Scene four

A bitter scene; the people had their spears, sticks and pangas ready waiting for Rwambura and his tractor. “Rwambura also wants to put this swamp inside the barbed wire like he has done with the land where he grazes his cattle…..His wife has been telling their monied friend and the news just splashed to us.”(Marita)

When Rwambura arrived with his porters Rutagirenda, Meisho, Kitwe, and Katondori who were also part of the people, they were ashamed by the comments made against them, they all refused to step aside, so the journey by Rwambura was futile. When he left, Nyamuganya was asked to spy where they had gone… And he came back with the facts that Rwambura went home with his porters and two tractors, they guessed the second tractor must have been from the government and he his it from them.

A while later the rich man returned with four police men, the people were frightened but Birakwate cautioned them to remain firm even when Rwambura pointed him out to the police, he didn’t go down without a fight and they were ready to join him until the police men brought out their pistol shot in the air and pointed at them. They all dropped their weapons and, Furida, Birakwate and Nyamuganya was arrested as chairpersons for disallowing Rwambura’s work on his field.

Marita and Rwankwisi were also arrested even after they protested with the excuses that, she had a baby at home and the other was too old.

They all go

Scene five

All who were rounded up were seated around a fire in front of the district commissioner’s office where they had spent the whole night in the cold. The police officers made a joke out of them especially Furida the widow.

there is one important thing you must understand. This man you’re quarreling with is well known by the people in the government….. They are the ones who have given him a license to grow and sell vegetable s and tobacco. They are the ones who gave him another tractor to till the land with…. Even if the government did not give him license he could still take your land if he wanted to, who doesn’t know him and whom doesn’t he know? And haven’t you heard  that everywhere these days they enclose big land with barbed wire?…..(police 2)

They were told to pay fifty shillings for bail or spend two months in prison. Other people in the community contributed to support their family in paying and in a while the secretary to the district commissioner comes bringing words of their release.

Birakwate concludes to others that these Government officials are not to be trusted and the party must be informed “let us go and put on paper our case as we will present it”

They exit.

Scene six

Birakwate arranged for a meeting with the people to give them feed back on how their case was handled amongst the party officials. It turns out that their case is no different from the case of others in Acholi , west Nile, Busigu,Teso, Buganda, Tooro, Bunyoro, Busoga, Bukedi, Ankole and Rumjumbura. The whole country is fighting against people like Rwambura who acquire lands that belong to the people and set barbed wires around them.

Birakwate: They sent nationwide directives to government officials to stop all those who has started establishing large private farms and throwing people off the land….. They directed that all land be taken from the people anywhere should be given back to them and they use it together for the benefit of all… And in our case, a letter has been sent to the district commissioner directing him to pay back the money to all of us who were fined and to apologize to us for having dealt with the matter in the wrong way…

At the end of this they all jumped about celebrating their victory.

The end.

Mukotani Rugyendo born 1949 is a Ugandan poet, writer and journalist probably best known for his poem “My husband has Gone”.

He graduated from the University of Dar es Salaam in 1973 where he edited a literary journal Umma. In 1977, he published The Barbed Wire and Other Plays (The Contest and And the Storm Gathers) in the Heinemann’s African Writers Series. In the seminal article “Waiting for Amin: Two Decades of Ugandan Literature”, Ugandan scholar Peter Nazareth, now based at the University of Iowa, says of Rugyendo, “He has a radical approach to post colonial problems, attempting to create revolutionary drama in content and form”.


2 Replies to “Play; The Barbed Wire

  1. Wonderful web site. Plenty of useful info here. I am sending it to several friends ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks for your effort!

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