Tuesday, May 08, 2018

On the right side

Dr has met Dr and of where discussions on partnership in pushing for media content that promotes development, equity, culture and moral values were held.
Once upon a time, it was the duty of every patriotic and right-thinking Kenyan to sing songs of praise for the President*. Indeed, Kenya had a national mass choir, art of whose job was to compose and perform songs of praise for both the President* and the ruling party, KANU. These patriotic songs epitomised the role that Government, personified in the President*, had arrogated to itself: of national moral guardian.

Back then it was routine for Government, executing the President*'s divine will, to ban songs, books, magazines, films, posters, or TV shows and stage plays, if they were suspected of being subversive. A thing was subversive because the President* deemed it so. Civil servants contorted themselves into Gordian knots when attempting to discern what was and what wasn't subversive. It mattered little what the law said; what mattered was whether or not the President* would be offended. The Kenya Film Censorship Board, the demon-seed progenitor of the Kenya Film Classification Board, was the apotheosis of this system: it lived for the opportunity to show the President* that it was the most loyal follower of the moral message of the President*. It caused many people a great deal of misery.

The constitutional order may have been upended in 2010, but the innate instincts of the factotums who divined the President*'s will have refused to die. These illiberal instincts that drive public officers to decree what is and what isn't morally wholesome and, thereby, what we can or can't read, hear, watch, listen to or experience, are alive in institutions such as the Kenya Film Classification Board and in the likes of Dr* Mutua, its eponymous Secretary and Chief Executive Officer. You can witness Dr* Mutua seeking a return to the glory days of moral uprightness by how he sometimes hysterically cavils against Coca-Cola advertisements, Cartoon Network animated shows, YouTube music videos, insurers' billboard advertisements and films submitted to the Board for classification.

Dr* Mutua, ostensibly, does all this in the name of the vulnerable and children. Dr* Mutua believes very strongly that he is called upon to act by God Himself to protect the vulnerable and children using the tools available to him, that is, the Kenya Film Classification Board and the Films an Stage Plays Act, chapter 222 of the laws of Kenya. Dr* Mutua is a zealot and he will wear our snide comments about his motives, methods and moustache like badges of honour. In his zeal to protect the vulnerable and children, Dr* Mutua will ban what he must ban and campaign for the erasing from public view of every single unwholesome billboard, video, poster, private party, debate, and film that threatens the moral safety of the vulnerable and children.

Dr* Mutua claims he is doing what he is doing for the sake of the vulnerable and the children because he knows that he cannot openly claim to be doing it for the President*. The days of civil servants swearing and demonstrating fealty to the President* are long gone. Now public officers - including the likes of Dr* Mutua - must at least pay lip service to the constitutional obligations of leadership and integrity, that is, that they are doing their thing for the people. If Dr* Mutua truly believed that he was doing what he is doing for the people, then he would listen to the people and not just a section of his choir. He would take into account that in the twenty-first century, censorship is unlikely to lead to the generation of wholesome moral content because if he had even read his history, he would know that censorship has always, painfully failed. The history of the Christian church is a history of failed attempts at censorship.

Dr* Mutua, just like his predecessors at the censorship agency, criminalise the very act of thinking, the very fact of being. They do so shamelessly. While in the past they did it violently, today they are more insidious. They use the law as a cudgel, stripping you of your dignity and, quite often, liberty and property. And it is striking that unelected politicians and their political parties re joining hands with Dr* Mutua or his Board. We Kenyans frequently get many things very wrong, but in even the most nascent opposition to Dr* Mutua and his enablers, history will judge us as having stood on the right side of things.

*Titles, in Kenya, hide so very much, don't you think?

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