Trouble for Sale is a rare and rebellious work of art whose title is intriguing and apt.
Just like an opening, a good title can tantalize and magnetize potential readers and buyers alike. Such is the title of Maina Wahome's action-packed political satire. The title is intriguing and apt not only because it is denotative or evocative of 'trouble' that is brewing but also by virtue of its ability to galvanize a reader into exploring and toying around with a number of questions and ideas around that imagery.
One suddenly gets rained down by a downpour of questions: What type of trouble is this? Who are the sellers? Who would sell trouble? How? Where? When? The author manages to capture the imagination of the reader right from the title to the opening of the book where the playwright introduces social, economic, and political and ideological struggles and causes in style.
As the fast-paced story unfolds in a movie-like style in a fictitious country that Kimindero calls "Mother Nyeka," the reader is presented with an opportunity to question and smell the crudeness, controversies and dishonesties of some of the characters. For instance, Watoro mockingly refers to Kimendero as "Minister of Fairness," a former government official who happens to have been jailed at one time for misappropriating public funds. He probably represents an elitist bunch of false patriots and party loyalists and beneficiaries.
The action is chiefly and cautiously centred around Kamerukia who is a Member of Parliament for Mateseko Constituency, and a temperamental husband to Watoro, and his friend, Kimendero; Mwariama, who is Kamerukia's lawyer, Mumbi, a university student; Tomboka, Kimakia's lawyer; Menge, Mumbi Kanyoro's lawyer, General Francisco, the leader of the Revolution Movement, Gati, the crowd mobilizer and Dada, a superintendent. It also features Kinonde, a groundskeeper who believes that the poor need to be subservient servants to their wealthy masters, because "the rich men's fart never stinks."
The reader could perhaps have some rhetoric questions about Watoro's role and intentions. Is she playing her cards well in a marriage of convenience? If so, is she a gold-digger or a decent and committed wife whose "crime" is her lack of educational credentials and a case having to deal with a corrupt, disloyal and disrespectful husband? Is it out of love or desperation that she has to bear with his meanness and mannerlessness? Can a reader sympathise with her plight? If she is indeed allergic to shady business and money, why does she remain an indirect or direct beneficiary of shady dealings and spoils?
Through the play we see how social class divisions and the trammels of patriarchy play out before master and servant, and husband and wife, respectively. When Kimendero, a wealthy retired government official, visits his equally affluent and matrimonially-unfaithful friend Kamerukia, and is so impressed with the meal that he has been treated to that he showers praises upon Kamerukia's employees, Kamerukia conceitedly reminds him that they are not doing his family a favor by doing their job well. If anything, his language reeks of abuse, arrogance, intolerance, irritability and bossiness. He has no respect for his workers and wife.
For instance, he calls out Tsion, their house-help, to clean the dining table, and the housemaid rushes in, after she has done that cleaning chore, her 'crime' is to ask, "Any other service, sir?" He gives her curt responses like , "Make yourself busy with household chores before l lose my temper" and "Now get out of here at once. I have serious matters to discuss with my visitor." His utterances are a clear sign of how he frowns upon those who do not have money and power as if they are lesser humans.
Unlike Kinonde, Tsion believes that the fart of their stinking rich employers stinks of assassinations, sleaze, pauperization and enslavement. To Kinonde who is just happy with getting a wage in a world of greed, privations and machinations, whether it is a tiny part of misappropriated government funds or not, Tsion says "You need to reason beyond your stomach. This country has (enough) resources that can be beneficial to everyone if there is equity and equality. "
Kimendero pays Kamerukia a "business visit" to ask about "the counterfeit and contrabands" that he deserves or else peace can easily turn into violence, and war into peace. Goods have to be cleared at the port without scrutiny. Kimendero offers him a huge amount of money while Watoro, his wife, warns her husband that any acceptance of such a lucrative and shady offer is a betrayal of his kinsmen and country.
Her unmannerly and materialistic husband takes her advice as an act of insolence and interference. The play does not only depict the pretensions, unfaithfulness and foulnesses of men, it also shows the diabolic, disturbing and stubborn mentality and level of objectification, gender polarization and stereotyping of women that is embedded in some men in particular and some modern communities and countries in general.
If Kimendero wilfully body shames women like Watoro "who have neither credentials nor testimonials and has nausea when he exchanges words with the gender that first received the fruit from the snake in the Garden of Eden," his friend Kamerukia, who dangerously demeans and generalizes "that women are ambiguous, general and empty" -- breathes a misogynistic, sadistic and sarcastic impatience for someone whom he claims he saved from spinsterhood. He warns and reminds her that " l saved you from being a penniless spinster." He reckons he did her a huge favour just like he did the same thing to his employees who are at his beck and call, just like offering his girlfriend an apartment. Both men chase Watoro away in order to discuss their shady businesses. Both have no business and energy to discuss with her. In fact, Kamerukia tells his wife to go to the kitchen or bedroom where he alleges are her areas of expertise. He believes that he is in the business of doing people favors.
Kimendero: The food is well-cooked. You have obedient servants in this compound.
Kamerukia: This is what l have employed them to do. They are not doing me any favor. The terms of service are: give me the best services because you do receive a salary. Kimendero! Kimendero! How many times did l call you?
Kimendero: (Stops eating and pays attention). Three times. Why ask me the obvious?
Kamerukia: Common sense is not common to all. It is as if you have forgotten what our beloved ruler tells us every day.
Kimendero: Which is...
Kamerukia: Jurisdiction. Yes, my friend. This is my apartment and the jurisdiction in this compound is bestowed upon me. (Moving closer to him). Therefore, you have no mandate whatsoever to question what happens in this compound.
Kimendero: (Devouring the meal with gusto). Haha! Jurisdiction. You still have the temerity to talk about jurisdiction. (Laughs again). In this country, the bourgeoisie are always the controllers of the factors of production. They drive the best vehicles and live in the best apartments.
Kamerukia: See your life! You talk too much, my friend. I need a dictaphone to record what you say.
Kimendero: Are you a government spy? Do you work for this incumbent government that has experiences in unprecedented looting spree in Nyeka? Listen Kamerukia, there is no hiding place for corrupt government officials. Corruption is endemic and it is needless to say that poor governance has led to poor infrastructure.
Kamerukia: That is why l am telling you l need a tape recorder or a dictaphone because you can talk pages. Have you forgotten you are a retired government official who never changed the situation of the common citizens? You cannot come to my own house to lecture me on governance .
Kamerukia has an interesting range of personal theories. For instance, he is of the opinion that money has powers to move mountains and fill gorges, that laws are for the underprivileged, that patriotism only exists in newspapers and dictionaries, that the arms of the government are managed by vultures and dinosaurs whose desires are insatiable, that in most third world countries, corruption is indispensable, and that justice and law are miles away like heaven and earth. He is also of the opinion he is doing Mumbi, a university student who is also his girlfriend, a huge favor by offering her an apartment that is located in the furthest end of the city, yet their bone of contention is that she wants to live within the capital.
His friend, Kimendoro on the other hand, is described by Tsion as a rich but mannerless bastard because she claims he sexually mishandled her. Similarly, Mumbi threatens to spill the beans ( which basically means sending a transcript of their revealing and crazy conversations) to Watoro, and even accuses him of rape. Mumbi pays the supreme price as she is murdered by a hired assassin. Those who are behind such horrendous murders are powerful men. They commit crimes with impunity. They are notorious. When powerful ,corrupt and proud people like Kamerukia are finally arrested and ordered to sleep on the floor, one begins to feel that perhaps they have come hurtling down to Mother Earth like the rest of the long-suffering ordinary citizens.
There is a level of balanced showing and telling, vivid descriptions and settings; convincing, interesting, diverse and developed characters as the author explores the dynamics, dramas and debates over the distribution of wealth, the production factors like geography, demography and culture.
Inevitably, the reader is expertly transported, led and nudged into placing recent, relevant and historical political players and their unbecoming behaviors and antics under the microscope. Trouble is certainly brewing, trouble has taken centre stage. Evidently, troublesome personalities have captured and personalised public institutions and procedures.
The ordinary people are in a dilemma. Political pranksters have put their priorities and power ahead of the wishes and aspirations of the citizens. Not to be outdone are church pretenders and entrepreneurs who use and abuse religion to prey on their supernatural power-seeking followers to further their selfish ends. Men of cloth have become false prophets or wolves in sheep's clothing in a world full of miracle-hungry and gullible souls and congregants. Church has become some easy but lucrative business for them as poor souls seek solace and hope.
The characters' actions make sense as the storyline's mood affords the reader the opportunity to sense the senselessness of the injustices of brutality, pretentiousness, power, pride and greed. The style is fitting. Maina's characters set the pages alight with their own animated presences, actions, footprints and voices. Voices of reason. It is a breath of freshness. Wahome's book is a soul-searching, damning and revealing mirror held up to an African country, and by extension, Africa and beyond.
Trouble for Sale is an indictment of what is wrong with African politics and the abuse and objectification of women. It is a moving depiction of the complicated drama of politics and economics, politics and religion. How does one follow a political trajectory that does not harm economics? What can be learnt from such trajectories and histories?
Has the love of money overtaken the tenets of decency, marriage and humanity? The play unveils marital, social and political cynicism, muddles and madness, and a society that is devoid of a political direction, commitment, honesty and happiness because of a covetous and corrupt leadership. At home, the story is no different. Selfless leadership lacks. The men are so desirous of concubines and fun much to the detriment and chagrin of their families, especially wives.
The playwright presents the play with several effective and artistic styles and devices like a pseudonym for a country, a community's axioms and justifications, like the rich's fart does not stink, a community's views, theories, frustrations and conclusions like "patriotism only exists in newspapers and dictionaries" or " most third world countries have proven that they cannot do without corruption,"
The writer also uses dramatic devices like poetry, dialogue, monologue, soliloquy, realism, emphasis, contrast, repetition or rhetoric to send his message home. For instance, Kimendoro rebukes and laments, "Mother Nyeka, home of monumental endemic corruption. Monster leaders planning to rape their own," Then he stands up and points at a portrait of Malcom X and resumes reproaching "Elites fragmented into tribes. Who has not raped you as your children watch?"
Maina's offering is a compelling, courageous, introspective and telling read. l would recommend it to counsellors, readers, researchers, historians, journalists, editors, human rightists, economists, politicians and political aspirants. Never short of wordplay, is it a worthy addition to the genre of plays.