In a recently released video of ‘Gbagba: The Stage Play,’ a diminutive, 8 year-old Liberian child actor proclaims, “In gbagba or corruption, there are never any real winners, only loser.” On November 20, World Children’s Day, this pithy phrase is particularly relevant because it sums up how corruption—a mainstay in nations both rich and poor—stifles human progress.
The play debuted at Monrovia City Hall in Liberia on September 28, 2017 comprising an all-child Liberian ensemble cast trained over a period of five months by premier theater company, Flomo Theater.
In the book and its stage adaptation, children navigate the confusing ethical codes of the adults in their lives, in places as diverse as traffic jams, schools, churches and marketplaces. The children express clearly and honestly the concrete ways in which gbagba, loosely translated in the Bassa language as ‘corruption,’ hurts rather than heals society.
‘Gbagba: The Stage Play’ was adapted from the anti-corruption children’s book, ‘Gbagba,’ written by Robtel Neajai Pailey, illustrated by Chase Walker and published to critical acclaim by One Moore Book in 2013.
The stage play and accompanying highlights video, join a growing collection of multi-media tools adapted from the book to facilitate conversations between children and adults in Africa and across the globe about how to be accountable to self, community, nation and world.
In the video and other media outlets, Gbagba author Pailey says that “children are the moral compass of Liberia; they are the moral compass of the world. When they start publicly exposing corruption for what it truly is, my hope is that adults will be shamed into living more honestly, with integrity.”
‘Gbagba: The Stage Play’ was made possible through a generous grant from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). Massa Crayton, Liberia country representative, who was present at the stage play, had this to say about Pailey’s use of the arts to tackle corruption: “The Gbagba story is a classic example of the saying that children live what they see. Gbagba or corruption is one of the major societal vices they grow up with in the home, community and larger society.
“Development of the Gbagba story into a stage play for children, who are the future leaders of Liberia, places premium on a much needed national conversation about the effects of corruption and the more than urgent need to curb it. Special thanks to the children who performed brilliantly on stage. We hope they carry the anti-gbagba message as wide as possible.”
Since its publication in 2013, ‘Gbagba’ has been piloted in schools across Liberia as well as placed on the supplemental list of readers for 3rd to 5th graders by the Liberian Ministry of Education and for Primary 3 by the Ghana Education Service.
The subject of anti-corruption workshops for children in Liberia, Mozambique, Jamaica, and the UK, ‘Gbagba’ has also been adapted into a song, video and radio drama. A sequel is forthcoming in 2018.