Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Is CS Achesa up to the task?

If I could afford the cost of setting up one and could generate enough income to pay for the operating costs, the reason I'd establish a newspaper, a TV news station or a news radio station would not be to offer "good journalism" but to offer "good journalism at a profit". Very few people would spend millions, perhaps tens of millions, of shillings without expecting a return on their investment. To expect investors to lose money on their investments is naive.

The same is true about investing in the production and distribution of other forms of media, especially music, TV scripted or animated shows, or films, movies and documentaries. Content producers expect to be pad for their efforts. Distributors expect to make a profit on their investment. Broadcasters and exhibitors also expect to turn a profit. It is a simple but profound truth: there are no free lunches; someone always picks up the tab.

Which brings us to Wakanda. By now it must be obvious that filming in Kenya, whether you are a local film maker or a foreign one, is not easy. It has been so for at least a decade. Every now and then, a Hollywood producer will shoot part of their movie in Kenya but these are not the days of Mogambo (1953), White Mischief (1987) or The Constant Gardner (2005). Stories of Kenyans and about Kenya are being shot in South Africa (The Ghost and the Darkness, 1996, and The First Grader, 2010, come to mind) as are many television ads featuring major Kenyan companies. And so it is no surprise that Wakanda, a fictional nation in East Africa, was not shot in Kenya but, among other places, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.
 
We could argue that the $200 billion that Ryan Coogler was given by Disney to make the film could have spared a few hundred thousand dollars to film in Kenya, but the likes of Ezekiel Mutua and the bureaucracy that sustains the Kenya Film Classification Board would have found ways to raise the cost of doing business in Kenya, as would have the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts (under the hapless Hassan Wario) and the county governments that would have had the pleasure of hosting the Wakanda crew. The bureaucratic headaches would not be worth the dollars.

We still don't have a coherent position on what we should do with our cultural artifacts, both ancient and modern. Should we monetise them and if so, in what way? Are there cultural artifacts that are "owned" by specific communities and what are their rights to these artifacts? How do we encourage content producers to invest in the producing new cultural artifacts if we aren't sure that they will make any money out of them? If I want to film a Durex condom ad in Nairobi, in support of a national HIV and AIDS control policy, why should I pay fees to the Kenya Film Classification Board, the Film Department of the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts, and the county government? Afterwards, if I want the ad broadcast in Kenya, why must I pay for separate permits from the KFCB and the Communications Authority? This on top of the taxes that I will pay under the Income Tax Act, the Excise Duty Act, and the East African Community Customs Management Act.

A policy is long overdue. I wonder if CS Achesa is up to the task of bringing Kenya out of the creative dark ages.

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