In Summary
  • Kenya Film Classification and Board Chief Executive Officer Ezekiel Mutua announced that an advert with “offensive kissing scenes that violate family values” would have to be edited before going back on air.
  • This is not the first time this seemingly anachronistic Board has acted in a manner that borders on suppression of the freedom of expression.
  • The Board has previously threatened international online channels with unspecified action if their ‘programming code’ does not similarly conform to our ‘national values and morality’.

After the shambolic mlolongo (queue-voting) elections of March 1988, the then President Daniel Arap Moi created several new ministries in his government, including the curiously named ministry of National Guidance and Political Affairs.

Addressing Parliament in May 1988 while requesting for supplementary funds to operationalise the new ministries, then Finance Minister George Saitoti indicated that the National Guidance ministry was meant to provide a “political, cultural and social framework for the sake of our national life”.

Supporting him, the then Assistant minister for Lands and Housing, Gideon Mutiso, enthused: “In the previous Parliaments, we have talked here about the need for this country to be guided with a kind of discipline. This discipline would, of course, apply not only to politicians themselves, but also to every other citizen of this country…”

Soon after their appointment, the minister, one James Njiru, and his assistant, Shariff Nassir, embarked on a national project to regulate thought and streamline the behaviour of all citizens.

In a reign of terror lasting a bit over a year, the minister played the perfect sycophant, purporting to discipline everyone including the then vice-president for disrespecting the president.

While claiming to delineate our national values in line with the vacuous ‘Nyayo philosophy’, the ministry engaged in a campaign of demonising dissent. Books were banned, political speeches were analysed for any ‘dissident’ expressions, and opposition politicians campaigning for restoration of multiparty democracy were dismissed as agents of foreign governments out to destabilise the Kanu.

My ruminations on those sad repressive days have been triggered by a statement released midweek by Mr Ezekiel Mutua, ostensibly on behalf of the Kenya Film Classification and Board where he is the Chief Executive Officer.

In the statement, he announced that an advert with “offensive kissing scenes that violate family values” would have to be edited before going back on air. He added that all adverts must “conform to our national values and morality”.

UNWRITTEN MORAL CODE

I am stupefied to discover that there exists an unwritten moral code in this country that prohibits kissing between two consenting adults, or that our ‘family values’ are offended by the act. If such a code exists, then it is obviously observed more in the breach, given the many Kenyans we see engaging in kissing and other public displays of affection on our streets!

As a patriotic citizen who desires to fully enjoy my constitutional rights, I have scoured our guiding legal documents for written expressions of our national values and morality, and fortunately happened upon Article 10 of our Constitution.

This Article outlines the ‘National values and principles of governance’ that bind “all State organs, State officers, public officers and all persons whenever they apply or interpret the Constitution, enact, apply or interpret any law, and finally, makes or implements public policy decisions” (emphasis mine). This is the closest we came to legislating on morality and values.

There is nothing prohibiting kissing or public displays of affection on TV or elsewhere. In fact, in Article 11, the Constitution requires the State “to promote all forms national and cultural expression” through various media, including communication, information and mass media.

This is not the first time this seemingly anachronistic Board has acted in a manner that borders on suppression of the freedom of expression.

The Board has previously threatened international online channels with unspecified action if their ‘programming code’ does not similarly conform to our ‘national values and morality’.

As long as we allow this seemingly rogue Board to continue operating as some sort of thought and morality police, we risk sliding onto a slippery slope at the bottom of which lies the unforgiving ogre of modern-day McCarthyism.

Atwoli is an associate professor of psychiatry and dean, School of Medicine, Moi University; lukoye@gmail.com