Monday, April 18, 2016

Messianism and the semi-literate

The KFCB, Kenya Film Classification Board to the uninitiated, or Kenya Film Censorship Board to the pining-for-the-'80s lot, is an interesting bureaucratic animal. It has a strange mandate: to review and issue classification certificates for all films broadcast in Kenya and every play staged in Kenya. Or so you would think. It is now, so far as I can tell from the statements of its Chief Executive Officer, a broadcast regulator and a communications' regulator. I wonder why the Communications Authority still exists.

You may find this to be a strange state of affairs and if you do, you'll be forgiven for missing the essential ingredients of a Kenyan bureaucratic animal, which are the complete and utter rejection of the confines of statute and the inexorable encroachment into potentially lucrative unrelated statutory environments. Given the increasing public profile of bank runs and bank collapses, it wouldn't surprise me if the KFCB expressed a deep desire to regulate the banking sector for the sake of Kenya's "moral values" or some similar schlock.

But the KFCB is not alone: the Communications Authority and the Competition Authority have been wrangling over the whether or not one or the other has the power to declare a telecommunications company as dominant, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service have had their differences over wildlife in forests, the National Environment Management Authority and the Water Resources Management Authority have wrangled over the right to collect water licence fees, Administration Police officers and Kenya Police Force officers have shot at each other because the former are merely a riot police organisation while the latter is a crime fighting force, and so on and so forth. 
In Kenya, the law is not the problem and it has never been. Those with the power to interpret it or enforce it have always attempted to read more into a law than the law warranted. It is how, more than a decade after the KFCB stopped censoring films and started classifying them in order for audiences to choose their poison, in a manner of speaking, its current CEO is hellbent in rolling back the clock and resorting to film censorship in complete rejection of the legsilative boundaries established by the Films and Stage Plays Act, chapter 222 of the laws of Kenya, and section 46I of the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998.

The KFCB CEO is not alone. He is part of a grand tradition of ignoring statutory limits because, just as the colonialists taught us, it is better to err on the side of statutory excess than to allow "anarchy" to reign free. It is why KFCB is on a jihad against immorality and why, if it follows the same path as all that have come before it, it will not stop at censoring Coca-Cola TV ads but will carry on until it decrees what we can think and when we can think it. It is Charles Njonjo's injunction against imagining the death of the president as enforced by an institution with a massive Napoleonic complex mixed with the Messianism of the semi-literate. It will not end well for anyone.

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