Robert Serumaga

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Robert Bellarmino Serumaga (1939 – September 1980)[1] was a Ugandan playwright.


Born to a Roman Catholic family in Buganda, Serumaga was raised by his mother, Geraldine Namotovu. He won scholarships to study at St Mary's College, Kisubi and St Henry's College, Kitovu.[2] He studied economics at Trinity College, Dublin, where he encountered Irish theatre and the Theatre of the Absurd.[3] He returned to Uganda in 1966[4] or 1967.[3] Initially employed as a government economist, he soon moved towards the theatre. He founded the National Theatre Company in 1967, writing A Play (1967), The Elephants (1970) and Majangwa (1971) for them. These plays were all influenced by absurdism, the lack of narrative action mirroring the stagnation of Ugandan society under Milton Obote.[4]

In 1971, the year Idi Amin came to power, Serumaga founded a private theatre group made up of fourteen school leavers.[3] Initially known as Theatre Limited,[2] the group was later renamed the Abafumi ("Storyteller") Theatre Company.[5] Serumaga drew on the theories of Constantin Stanislavski and Jerzy Grotowski to train his company in the psychological identification of actor and character. More fundamentally, he created a new dramatic form for Abafumi. By means of an abstract drama of physical movement and dance, political criticism of Amin could be enacted without censorship:[3]

He developed modes of drama - based mostly on ritual and mime - that could represent the climate of violence and death that dominated this period without drawing the unwanted attention of the ruthless military class.[2]

Amayrikitti was even performed at Amin's invitation at the 1974 Organization of African Unity Meeting in Kampala, with Amin describing it approvingly as "gymnastics".[4]

Becoming disillusioned with Amin, Serumaga left Uganda in 1977.[1] In exile in the late 1970s, he was involved in the liberation army that ousted Amin in 1979. He helped form the subsequent coalition government, briefly serving as Minister of Commerce under President Yusuf Lule.[2]

Robert Serumaga died in mysterious circumstances in Nairobi in 1980,[2] reportedly of a brain haemorrhage.[1][6] The Serumaga Organization, a non-profit organization run by Serumaga's daughter, is named in his memory.[7]



  • A Play (produced 1967)
  • The Elephants (produced 1970). Published as The Elephants, Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Majangwa (produced 1971). Published as Majangwa: A Promise of Rains and a Play, Nairobi, East African Publishing House, 1974.
  • Renga Moi (produced 1972)
  • Amayirikitti (produced 1974)



  1. ^ a b c "Robert Serumaga", in Hans M. Zell, Carol Bundy & Virginia Coulon (eds), A New Reader's Guide to African Literature, Heinemann Educational Books, 1983, pp. 482-4.
  2. ^ a b c d e Simon Gikandi (2007). "Serumaga, Robert (1939-1980)". In Evan Mwangi, Simon Gikandi (ed.). The Columbia Guide to East African Literature in English Since 1945. Columbia University Press. pp. 161–3. ISBN 978-0-231-12520-8. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d Anne-Kathrin Wilde (2010). The Development of Theatre in Ugand. GRIN Verlag. p. 9. ISBN 978-3-640-54201-7. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  4. ^ a b c "Robert Serumaga", Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance. Reprinted online at
  5. ^ Gikandi (2007) has the name as Abafumbi.
  6. ^ Douglas Killam, Literature of Africa, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004, p. 182.
  7. ^ Serumaga Organization