Veteran Kenyan thespian Mŭmbi Kaigwa returns to the stage on 25th April 2019 for a single showing of The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, of which she is the director. The somewhat graphic, Obie Award-winning, ‘V Monologues’ is by no means a novel show, even in the East African region. Mŭmbi herself first staged it in Kenya in 2002 and it has since then been performed by various groups. However, in the strong feminist vein of the work, Mŭmbi is also using her show to support Cometogether Widows and Orphans Organization, an NGO that focuses on female prisoners, former prisoners, and detainees. Since 1998, Ms. Ensler and her publishers have allowed global ‘artivists’ to ‘own’ her work for three months each year, waiving the show’s performance rights in order for global artivists to create community-driven productions that raise awareness and funds for local initiatives aimed at ending violence against women and girls.
Mŭmbi Kaigwa, who in 2013 was she was elected president of Women Playwrights International, began her acting career at the age of ten. Her first role was that of a young girl in a televised version of Wole Soyinka’s stage play, The Strong Breed. She has since performed in East Africa, North America, Asia, and Europe. Her Kiswahili musical drama KigeziNdoto: A Hook for Dreams has toured Europe and over 30 towns in Kenya and Tanzania since 2006. In 2009, Mŭmbi starred as the antagonist in Mo Faya: The Musical which, in addition to a 6-week run at the GoDown in Nairobi, was staged at the New York Musical Theatre for 8 weeks.
Away from the stage, Mŭmbi has appeared in the movies The Constant Gardner (based on the John le Carré novel of the same title), The First Grader (based on a true Kenyan story), and Australia’s long-running Neighbours TV series. Between 2012 and 2013, Mŭmbi celebrated 40 years in the performing arts with revivals of some of her favorite plays, which included Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads, Margaret Edson’s Wit and Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuff.
In 2013, South Africa-based CEO magazine gave Mŭmbi a Lifetime Achievement Award after a survey ranked her ‘Africa’s Most Influential Woman in the Arts and Culture’. In 2016, Egypt’s Ministry of Culture and Social Affairs honored her with a lifetime achievement award at the 23rd International Festival of Contemporary and Experimental Theatre. In 2017, the Tunisian Ministry of Culture and Social Affairs recognized her contribution to the performing arts during 19th Carthage Theatrical Days festival.
Ms. Kaigwa currently runs Turubai Za Fani (The Arts Canvas), a non-profit organization that creates ‘process-oriented art, with culture and history at the center of its programmes’.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.