Unmasking Michael ‘Manganya’ Usi: Malawi comedian, administrator

Manganya on roach show shooting a movie, Kale  in which he acts as former president Kamuzu Banda
Manganya on roach show shooting a movie, Kale in which he acts as former president Kamuzu Banda

There is a very murky line that separates genius from madness. And, in most case, it is often difficult to distinguish one from the other.

But in very rare cases does one possess both attributes in equal measure.

Which is why the story of Michael Usi makes intriguing reading. The actor, activist and administrator wears two dissimilar hats that baffle many as to how he copes with the complexity of being a madman on a weekend and a serious administrator on a Monday morning.

Michael Usi plays the remarkably mischievous and roguish Manganya in the popular television soap Tikuferanji.

Usi inherited the Manganya nom-de-plume as soon as he ventured into drama and it has become his second nature, the shadow that follows him everywhere he goes.

Yet Manganya is a class away from the real Usi of everyday life.

Usi is the deputy country director at Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). He holds two Masters Degrees – one in International Development and another in Strategic Management – and is rumoured to be studying for a PhD with a UK university, although he brushed talk of this aside in a recent exclusive interview with Nyasa Times.

“Let’s not talk about my school because that is a private matter. What I enjoy talking about is drama,” he says.

So we settled down and talked drama.

The first question that springs to mind is how does he cope with being two different people in one lifetime?

“It’s not easy. It’s very difficult because people want me to be Manganya every day. Actually, some people like Manganya more than they like Michael Usi. But that’s the way it is,” he explains, but hastens to add: “Manganya and Michael Usi are two different characters. Actually, the only common denominator between the two is the way I laugh.”

According to Usi, one key attribute that has sustained him is the fact that he never forgets his roots.

“I am a village boy at heart. Although I have travelled from the village to the city, the village has remained in my head and heart. I never get carried away with fame and I never forget that I am Michael Usi. I remain grounded in whatever I do,” he says.

But Usi says it gets confusing, and sometimes even irritating, when people see him and mistake him for Manganya as he goes about his business around town.

“It’s crazy because some people approach me and accuse me of things that Manganya has done on television. Most of the times I just laugh it off but sometimes it gets irritating because I am in a business mood and I am rushing to a meeting but people want to stop me and talk about Manganya.”

Usi has come a long way from Golden Village, TA Chikumbu in Mulanje to become a national celebrity, endearing himself with scores of Malawians along the way.

He confesses that he only came to Blantyre as a grown up because of work.

Having studied medical sciences, Usi worked his way up, starting off as a clinician at Malamulo Hospital in Thyolo and then St Lukes Hospital in Zomba.

He says the one aspect that his patients remember him by is that he was cheerful.

“As a clinician, I was loved and endeared by my patients because I am naturally a people’s person,” he says.

His professional career aside, Usi says he has never forsaken his first love – drama.

“I fell in love with drama during my secondary school days and I did not forsake it because of my education or my career,” he says.

Watching him act with his cast, one cannot tell that Usi has academic credentials that set him apart from his fellow dramatists in Malawi. He seems so at home among the cast, hardly using his education as a competitive advantage against his peers.

“My secret is that I don’t talk about my education. I try to conceal it. Very few people know what papers I have. Which is why those people that knew me when I had nothing don’t see a difference when they see me now because I have hardly changed who I am as a person,” he says.

Although Usi refuses to talk about his education, he insists that education is a prerequisite for anyone seeking to make it in life. He says it is education that enables him to relate to all classes of people.

Invited to give a talk to a group of students and alumni at the National College of Information and Technology (NACIT) in Blantyre recently, Usi emphasised on the need for  education.

“Look at me, although people know me as a dramatist, I have been approached by several political parties to represent them during elections. And although I have always declined, I think they know that behind this dramatist, is a diplomat and a politician and that my potential has not been exploited to the fullest.”

Usi never shies from using drama to express his views on politics.

He crossed paths with the Bingu wa Mutharika government for his scathing play Loto la Farao. The play was highly acclaimed and it sold out during several performances in Blantyre and Lilongwe.

Usi was recently back in the news after he staged his new political play Moto wa Chilendo. However, the play received negative press reviews and Usi blamed his cast of sabotage, dismissing his entire cast before he assembles a new team to take the play on a nationwide tour.

And although he has graced the theatre stage for close to two decades and has produced four full length films along the way, Usi says he is not done yet.

“There is more to come from me. I have a lot of ideas that I want to bring to life,” he says.

Micheal Usi
Micheal Usi

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