How theme of betrayal runs deep in Francis Imbuga’s book

The play Betrayal in the City by Francis Imbuga addresses contemporary issues such as corruption, dictatorship, betrayal, nepotism and impunity that are characteristic of many African independent states. This article will focus on dictatorship and betrayal.


Leadership in Kafira is dictatorial and Boss, the leader, is the epitome of dictatorship who imposes his will and policies on the people. He does not hesitate to eliminate anyone who gets in his way. The citizens of Kafira have no freedom of expression. University students demonstrate against the many expatriates in the country and other ills by the government and Adika, one of them is killed in cold blood to silence him and others who might try to criticise the government.

Adika’s funeral service is turned into a political rally and dictatorial orders are put in place; the coffin should not be carried by students, no crying in public for academic staff and the service should not take more than 10 minutes. Mosese, one of the lecturers who could not take it any more, tells them his mind and the following day he is arrested and accused of being in possession of opium, which is planted in his car by one of the government officials.

In prison, things are no better because the government uses policemen to terrorise political prisoners who are neither supposed to talk nor be silent. If they talk they are tortured for their hot mouths and if they are quiet, they have to explain what they are silent about. The Askari reminds Jere that he once killed a prisoner in that very cell.

Dictatorship is also evident when it comes to ordinary citizens, who are not allowed to live their lives without interference from the government. Adika’s parents are not allowed to perform the shaving ceremony because, according to the government, it might disrupt peace and cause more deaths. The government sends two soldiers, Mulili and Jere, to go and stop the ceremony and when the couple insist on the ceremony, they are eliminated.

The prisoners are forced to perform a play to entertain the visiting Head of State and details of the play must be in line with Boss’ wishes. The words ‘progress’ and ‘achievement’ must appear on every page. Mulili also insists that all people, including the children, should line up on the road to welcome the visitor. Those, like Kabito, who oppose the idea, are deemed uncooperative and they pay for it with their lives.

Writers are also affected by dictatorship through censorship since publishers cannot publish works that are considered dangerous. One of Jusper’s manuscripts is returned with one line: “I am afraid your manuscript is unpublishable under the present circumstances; your truth is too much in the nude.” The writers have to dress up the truth so that only a few would recognize it. If they fail to do that their work does not see the light of the day.


Betrayal is the other theme that is predominant in Betrayal in the City. The biggest betrayal is by the government on the citizen who had looked forward to the independence and the fruits that come with it. They had hoped that independence will free them from oppression but the government does the exact opposite. Instead of working for the betterment of the country, the leader, together with his officials, are out to satisfy their selfish interests at the expense of the citizens who continue to suffer. Those who try to fight for justice are either killed or punished severely through imprisonment.

The citizens have neither freedom of expression nor a say on what is happening in the country. They cannot criticize the government. Theirs is to take and follow orders from the government without questioning. One of the students demonstrating against the poor leadership is shot dead and his parents are killed for insisting on a shaving ceremony for him. Mosese and Jere are jailed for fighting for justice while Kabito is eliminated for being uncooperative and talking ill of Boss. By doing all these, the government betrays the trust the citizens put in the leaders, of ensuring that everyone enjoys the fruits of independence.

Betrayal also occurs at individual level where different people betray each other in various circumstances. Mulili betrays Jere when he refuses to support him in helping the old couple continue with the shaving ceremony that was very important to them. Jere reminds him that he covered him when he allowed Mustafa to escape to another country but Mulili says that nobody is likely to know that Mustafa crossed the border. He also betrays Boss who, apart from being his cousin, had put all his trust in him and had promised him a
big tract of land if he remains loyal to end. When the coup happens, Mulili disowns Boss saying that he is a dictator, has spoilt the economy of Kafira, has ruled for too long and has killed Kabito. This betrayal is too much for Boss who tells Jere to shoot him. When he kills Doga, Nina and Kabito, he betrays the citizens he is meant to protect.

Jusper betrays Tumbo, who has entrusted him with the writing of the play by using it to stage a coup while Tumbo betrays Regina by sending her to Boss knowing the weakness he has for women. He also betrays Boss when he refuses to follow due process when selecting the writer of the play and this costs them dearly when Jusper takes advantage and uses the play to stage a coup.

A sample essay question:

‘Tumbo is the epitome of corruption.’ Write an essay to justify this statement drawing illustrations from Betrayal in the city by Francis Imbuga.

Tumbo is one of the government officials who is dishonest and he conducts his deals fraudulently. His job and property are obtained dishonestly and he perpetuates this vice of corruption in his job.

Tumbo sells his university scholarship. When Tumbo meets Jusper at Regina’s place, he complains about the problem of students drinking too much and asks Jusper how much he drinks. Jusper says sarcastically that he supposes that he drinks as much as Tumbo drunk in his university days. Tumbo gets embarrassed and confesses that he didn’t go to university because he sold his scholarship because his family was poor and he had to work. Selling his scholarship is corruption because the scholarship was not supposed to be sold but to give him access to university education, which he exchanges for money.

Tumbo admits that he obtained the two blocks he owns fraudulently. He tells Jusper that he was born alone and should fight for himself first before fighting for others and that the country needs men of action rather than empty talk. His argument shows that he does not care how he obtains property and he does not care about other people so long as he gets what he wants.

He assigns Jusper the role of writing the play without following the due process. He is supposed to organise a competition and select the best writer for the play but he disregards this process and awards Jusper, denying other writers an opportunity, showing how corrupt he is.

His corrupt nature is again seen when he promises to give Jusper only a third of the money meant for the competition and use the rest to set the records straight. He takes advantage of Jusper to save and gives him only a third and remaining with the rest, which is not genuinely accounted for, showing his corrupt nature.

It is evident from the above illustrations that Tumbo is the epitome of corruption and he is a representative of a government marred by corruption among other vices.

It is worth noting that apart from Tumbo, other characters like Boss, Mulili and Askari are also corrupt.

Students are encouraged to explore the other themes and attempt questions to perfect their analytical and essay writing skills. The best essays will be published.


‘Betrayal in the City’ questions

1. ‘Leadership in Kafira is dictatorial.’ Validate this assertion drawing illustrations from Francis Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City

2. ‘Those who try to fight for justice face dire consequences.’ Write an essay to show the validity of this statement with close reference to Francis Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City.

3. ‘Francis Imbuga satirises leadership in Kafira’. Write an essay justifying this statement with illustrations from Betrayal in the City by Francis Imbuga.

4. Discuss the relevance of the title Betrayal in the City drawing your illustrations from Francis Imuga’s Betrayal in the City.

5. ‘Dictatorship by leaders has led to disillusionment among citizens’. Discuss the truth of this statement with reference to Betrayal in the City by Francis Imbuga.


In Summary

  • Dictatorship is also evident when it comes to ordinary citizens, who are not allowed to live their lives without interference from the government.
  • Adika’s parents are not allowed to perform the shaving ceremony because, according to the government, it might disrupt peace and cause more deaths.
  • The government sends two soldiers, Mulili and Jere, to go and stop the ceremony and when the couple insist on the ceremony, they are eliminated.

    The writer is a teacher at Alliance Girls High School.

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