The main characters and their roles in ‘Betrayal in the City’

Different characters play different roles in the play Betrayal in the City, among them to develop themes and stylistic devices, developing other characters and propelling the plot.


The main characters who play a significant role are Mulili, Tumbo, Jusper, Boss, Mosese and Jere.

This article will focus on Mulili, Tumbo and Boss and give a sample question on The River and The Source.

Mulili is a government officer and a cousin to Boss, the leader of the country. He is appointed to the post through nepotism and given the role of being the eyes and ears of Boss with a big reward of acres of land and cattle if he remains loyal. He is portrayed as inhuman, insensitive and callous. He does not listen to the old couple when they try to explain to him the importance of the shaving ceremony and does not understand the pain they are going through after one of their sons is shot dead and the other one is mentally unstable. His callousness is seen when he kills Doga, Nina and Kabito in cold blood and boasts about it.

His sycophantic and fanatical nature is seen when he does anything he can, including killing, to please Boss. He denies the old couple the chance to perform the ceremony even when Jere tries to reason with him. He later kills the couple for insisting on the ceremony. He even boasts of winning the milk tender undeservedly because of Boss’ influence and enacts how Boss addresses the university catering manager……you know who is speaking! It is me, me Boss himself no bloody vice-deputy. Yes alright cancel now….” He suggests that people should not go to work during the visit by the head of state so that they can all line up along the road to receive him.

He is also vengeful and unforgiving. He threatens his fellow officials and makes good his threats if they disagree with or criticise him. Jere is imprisoned and Kabito is killed after a disagreement with him. He is also comical and funny due to his little education, which makes him use broken English in a humorous manner. Some of his funny and laughable statements include: “…better never than late…” “a green grass in the snake.” He is the epitome of evil and plays the role of developing the themes of corruption, oppression and disillusionment.

Tumbo is another government official who also gets his job and property through corruption. Just like Mulili, he is there to please Boss and secure his job and property. Due to his corruption and greed, he sells his scholarship and acquires his property fraudulently and continues to perpetrate these vices in his job. He fails to organise a competition for play writing but instead gives Jusper the award winning prize and allows him to write the play and later keeps three quarters of the money and gives Jusper only a third.

He is ignorant and inefficient. He does not know who Soyinka is and thinks he is a prime minister of some country and a politician. It is through his inefficiency that he allows Jusper to write the play and Mosese and Jere take part in the play, which they use to stage a palace coup.

His cowardly nature is highlighted when he fails to stand up for the truth and defend what he believes in. He believes that Mulili is misguiding Boss but he does not have the courage to tell Boss because he fears his temper. Tumbo is the embodiment of corruption and poor governance and also plays the role of developing the plot and other characters like Jusper Regina, Mulili, Boss, Jere and Mosese.

Boss is the president of Kafira and a cousin of Mulili. He rules the country with an iron fist and does not entertain criticism from anyone. He is dictatorial and authoritative. He orders the elimination of Doga and Nina for insisting on a shaving ceremony and Kabito for defaming his name and being uncooperative. He also orders the shooting of the university students for protesting against expatriates in the country and brings 300 more expatriates to teach the students a lesson.

Boss’ corrupt nature is seen when he practices nepotism by giving his cousin Mulili a job and ensuring that he gets favours, like the milk tender which he takes away from Kabito. He has acquired wealth and banked money in foreign accounts and gives jobs to expatriates in return for foreign favours at the expense of the country.
Boss is an inefficient and incompetent leader who relies on even more inefficient officials to run the country. He has appointed officials such as Mulili, Tumbo and Nicodemo to take charge and deal with anyone who defies his orders and does not take time to investigate the propaganda he gets from these officials.
His role is to develop the themes of oppression, dictatorship, poor governance and corruption.

Sample question:

“Akoko is at the centre of change.” Write an essay validating this statement drawing illustrations from Margaret Ogola’s The River and the Source.

In ‘The River and the Source’ by Margaret Ogola, people’s way of life and the way things are done has transited from the traditional to the modern and Akoko has played a key role in enhancing this transition.

Religion has changed from traditional worship, which involved worshiping Were, the god of the eye of the rising son, to Christianity. When Nyabera goes through a lot of pain and suffering after losing all her children apart from Awiti and, later, her husband, she decides to seek another way of life and she seeks information from Pilipo, who had joined the missionaries and learned about the new religion. When Nyabera tells Akoko, her mother, about it, she encourages and advises her to go ahead. She supports her by remaining with and taking care of her daughter, Awiti and her (Akoko’s) grandson little Owuor. They all join her later, adopt the new religion, attend catechism and get baptised.

When Peter Owuor expresses his interest in priesthood, Akoko encourages him despite the fact that he was the next in the chieftaincy lineage.
Akoko is also at the centre of change in education. The white man introduces formal education at a time when the community did not value education, especially for girls, whose sole purpose for their existence was to get married and bear children. Akoko encourages her granddaughter, Awiti, to pursue her education despite the taunts she gets from the villagers who believe that a girl should not show her brilliance so openly as she may not get anyone to marry her. She even reprimands Nyabera when she becomes paranoid about Awiti’s joining college.

She supports Awiti in her education by paying the three shillings fees, which was not easy to get until she completed her education and became a teacher. Awiti instills the same spirit in her children who all excel in their education.
Akoko plays an active role in the new leadership. Otieno sits on the chief’s stool with glee and arrogance and shows no signs of relinquishing it to young Owuor when he comes of age. He also dispenses with the venerated council of ‘jodongo’ and appropriates his late brother’s wealth and wants to grab Akoko’s wealth.

When she realizes that the battle has reached bitter proportions, she embarks on the epic journey to Kisuma to seek help from ‘sirkal’, the new government, which forces him to return the wealth he had grabbed and removes him from the stool. She is the first one in Sakwa to embrace the new government, which later takes over leadership.
Changes in marriage and bride price have taken place in the novel and Akoko is at the centre of these changes. She supports mark and

Elizabeth’s marriage despite the fact that no ‘Jowang’yo’ was involved in establishing the antecedents of either of them. She also asks only a token of a bull, two cows and six goats in bride price.

This is later seen in other couples like Aoro and Wandia, Becky and John Courtney, who date freely without ‘Jowang’yo’ and the bride price is not a big deal.

From the above points, it is evident that Akoko is actively involved in the many changes that occur in the novel.
Students are encouraged to keep attempting the essay questions to better their writing and analytical skills.

The writer is a teacher at Alliance Girls High School. lucykamau303@gmail.com

The Saturday Nation is publishing reviews and analyses of the KSCE English set books. This will help students, especially Form Four candidates as they prepare for their exams. The series is aimed at helping them to develop a critical and analytical approach to reading. Students will also be exposed to questions that will prepare them to better appreciate literature. These will also guide them on how to approach the questions. The best answers will be published in the Saturday Nation.

Send correspondence to satnation@ke.nationmedia.com

In Summary

  • Boss is the president of Kafira and a cousin of Mulili. He rules the country with an iron fist and does not entertain criticism from anyone. He is dictatorial and authoritative.
  • His sycophantic and fanatical nature is seen when he does anything he can, including killing, to please Boss. He denies the old couple the chance to perform the ceremony even when Jere tries to reason with him.
  • The Saturday Nation is publishing reviews and analyses of the KSCE English set books. This will help students, especially Form Four candidates as they prepare for their exams.

    http://www.nation.co.ke/lifestyle/weekend/-Betrayal-in-the-City/1220-4149532-v9j4tl/index.html

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