• Joseph Muleka
Keywords: African literature, East African drama, psychoanalysis, tripartite psyche, character motivation and drive, social vision.


Uzoma Esonwanne, in the article “The ‘Crisis of the Soul’: Psychoanalysis and African Literature,” argues that psychoanalysis and African literature have long maintained a studious,
if not wary, distance from each other (140). The interpretation of this is that psychoanalysis as a theoretical approach does not, or cannot apply to African literature; a claim which – in the view
of this paper – can only be the consequence of a misreading of African literary works, whether deliberate or not. Of course, many literary works by African writers can be subjected to a
psychoanalytic determination. The aim of this paper is to disabuse Esonwanne’s claim by demonstrating that, and how, in fact psychoanalytic approach is core and inescapable in the full
understanding of the motivation of some of the actions by a majority of the characters in African literary works. We are bound to turn to psychoanalysis as we attempt to unearth the social vision
that the characters represent and, in particular, what drives them. The paper carries out this task using selected works by some of the leading East African playwrights; namely Imbuga and
Ruganda, as a case study. The paper endeavours to apply the psychoanalytic “tripartite psyche” to interrogate four of some of the most prevalent concerns of East African drama, namely: abuse
of power, amassing wealth, social injustice and sycophancy cum betrayal. Through the application of the tripartite psyche, the paper discusses the four identified vices, arguing that
indeed these are part of the motivators for the rampant destructive instincts witnessed in the works, including murder, corruption, incarceration of perceived dissidents, clinging to power
and ethnic cleansing, among others. The paper relies on textual analysis, employing qualitative descriptive and comparative research designs.