Open The Door 2023: Rose Mbowa (1943-1999)

Rose Mbowa (1943-1999): playwright, director, scholar, composer, curator of justice, actor, and activist who passionately believed in theatre’s role in freedom of speech in Uganda

Rose Mbowa

Rose went to Gayaza High School, an all-girls school, from there she took on English Literature from Makerere University eventually to become an MA in theatre, arts and drama from the University of Leeds. She once became a lecturer working in the department of music, dance and drama at Makerere University. Quite suddenly, becoming the head of that same department when the previous head was forced to leave the country. She was a member of Magere Women’s Cooperative during her time, involved in agricultural, art and craft activities. 

In the hearts of her hearts, she was meant for the theatre and the theatre was meant for her. She worked on multiple articles on theatres in Uganda. She went on to perform with many theatres there. In that way, she used all her talents, strength and passion to interact with theatre companies and polish her niche. She did what she loved to the core. Mother Uganda and Her Children is one of her works she is strongly known for. In 2020, some of us got to know through the Independent (news outlet) that Uganda National Cultural Centre along with Makerere University held a memorial lecture in her memories. Actress Irene Kulabako mentioned during the event that right before Rose arrived at the centre stage of theatres, there was very less audience-performer interaction. The moment our playwright-writer started settling into the premises, she worked upon making the plays more human-centred and ran them in local languages. It is important to share that the decades Rose lived in was far from a decent world. The standard of living and the state of things such as attitude towards HIV, restrictions on family planning made life for people in Uganda more difficult and uneasy. Yet Rose was not ready to strangle her words down. She incorporated local, ethnic languages and spread her magic and bravery all over the country. 

Rose’s way of working in the development of theatre, was liked and admired by her students. They were moved enough to incorporate her way of working and developing theatre, in their own works. Professor Patrick Mangeni has been found to share special memories, in his words, saying that Rose moulded the artist as well as developed the art with shine, radiance and positivity. She was looking to visualise a world where drama will bring a necessary, positive, and long-lasting changes to society and for people’s lives. She was titled the Best Actress at the National Theatre and Presidential Meritorious Award for Acting in 1973. 

Rose passed away on February 11, 1999. A strong willed, dedicated, focused and a creative human being who had utmost faith in the life changing power of drama.

Complied by Aishwarya Balasubramanian, December 2022

Further Reading:

Rose Mbowa of Mother Uganda and Her Theatre

Rose Mbowa: Obituary

Twenty years later, Mbowa is still influencing theatre