Artistes in Kenya risk going to jail after the country’s films and stage plays regulator threatened them with arrest and prosecution for indecent public performances.
The Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) chief executive officer Ezekiel Mutua also warned that the Board will ban shows that “dishonour and contravene common decency and those that objectify women.”
“Although the Board supports creativity, we are deeply concerned about false belief that only sexualised content appeal to audiences,” he said at a press conference on Thursday in the capital Nairobi.
Dr Mutua said artistes will not be allowed to “engage in obscene activities akin to porn”, adding that those who wish to strip to seek stripping permits.
“While the Board recognises the constitutional rights to free expression, we shall not allow art to be used as a vehicle to degrade our culture or promote indecent behaviour.”
KFCB said with help from the law enforcement agencies, it will raid hotels, clubs and discotheques in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kilifi at the coast, as well as other entertainment spots.
“The Board shall ensure that places where such performances take place are regulated and shows served with new terms and conditions that we shall announce in due course,” he said.
Parents will be held liable if they are found to have exposed their children to raunchy performances. Dr Mutua said KFCB has been forced to take such measures following public outcry.
This was after a racy music video by Esther Akoth, popularly known by her stage name Akothee, went viral, provoking debate on morality and society values.
“The Board is disturbed at the extent to which some famous artistes are going to, to attract audiences and relevance by exposing their private parts in public, gyrating in obscene ways and failure to uphold common decency in their public performances,” Dr Mutua said.
He also fingered a recent viral video clip by Kaligraph Jones with Betty Kyallo, as well as Bongo flava star Diamond Platinumz’s Kwangwaru for promoting sexual content.
But the move raised storm with section of leaders accusing Mutua of overstepping his limits in his self-appointed role of moral guardian. In fact a fierce exchange between Nairobi Woman Rep, Esther Passaris has been raging.
“There’s no other name to call that kind of madness mheshimiwa. I am shocked that you support such obscenity. As a leader you should be encouraging women to respect themselves by not exposing their private parts in public or gyrating for men. That’s cheap and indecent!” wrote Dr. Ezekiel Mutua on his tweeter handle in response to Passaris.
An enraged Passaris had demanded an apology from Dr. Mutua for referring Akothee’s stunt as demonic. “Ezekial Mutua you owe Akothee an apology because you insulted her and called her demonic. She didn’t do it in a school compound or perform for underage children,” demanded Passaris.
“You have a sick mind. Her private part was exposed only in your mind. On stage I saw her sexy dance moves, her flexibility and her confidence in her skin. You saw her vagina through her costume and double stockings. You need help my brother. You need help,” Passaris went further in the swipe against Dr. Mutua.
Last year, Tanzania’s moral guardians banned a new song by musicians Diamond Platnumz and Rayvanny, and slapped them with a TSh9 million ($3,930) fine.
The song, Mwanza, was deemed “dirty” and inappropriate for public consumption due to its alleged explicit sexual content.
Bongo flava star Diamond Platinumz’s music has been banned several times, and the Tanzanian government is the leading censor of music in the region. President John Magufuli has on several occasions railed against “immoral” music and video, and his government has banned nearly 20 songs.
He is in good company. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s government recently banned Freedom by musician and rising opposition star Robert Kyagulanyi, better known his stage name Bobi Wine, for criticising the political order.
Another musician, Lucky Otim, had his song Mac Onywalo Buru (Fire Produces Ash), which laid into musicians from the north, banned.
In all, in the past couple of years half a dozen songs have been censored, perhaps most sensationally Ensolo Yange (My Animal), by the audacious Jemimah Kansiime, known by her stage name Panadol wa Basajja (Painkiller for Men).
Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo described the video in which Kansiime, dressed only in thong, lathers herself with shampoo and twerks in a bath, as “obscene and vulgar.” In the end, she was thrown in jail for five weeks.
In Rwanda, Urban Boyz’s 2014 hit Ancilla was yanked off air, criticised cryptically for being “too westernised.”
Kenya has seen long battles between the Kenya Film Classification Board and its unrelenting CEO Ezekiel Mutua, against what the latter has labelled obscene content that is undermining the country’s moral foundations.
A slew of, especially, videos by musicians ranging from the hugely popular Sauti Sol (Nishike), Noti Flow (Birthday Cake), Chris Kaiga (Pombe Bangi), to Mustapha (Dodoma) have been banned from radio and or TV.
Sometimes the music bans have been both bizarre and far more fundamental. Last year, in Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government banned women from playing ritual drums.
But the record for music censorship in Africa today probably belongs to a place where otherwise, there is generally a lot of artistic and media freedom – Nigeria.
From rapper Falz and other superstars of the contemporary music scene like Davido, Olamide, Wande Coal, 9ice, the hammer has come down on so many in the country’s vast music scene it’s nearly impossible to keep count.
The crackdowns on political songs come from the old world, and the fears driving them are familiar.
However, the politicians’ anxiety over raunchy dancers and lyrics has a new, frightened edge to it. Moreover, it’s happening on YouTube where they can’t stop it and bans only drive up the traffic. And it’s also the music of a ballooning African population over whom the political and cultural establishments have little domination.
Zodwa Wabantu is a saucy South African dancer who famously performs sans underwear. Her shows have been banned in Zimbabwe, and she has been barred from entering Zambia.
Just one woman, lifting her leg a little too high is the biggest fear some governments in Southern Africa have.
The politicians may not be entirely wrong. If they lose all control of how the new Africans love, dance, and sing, it’s only a matter of time before they lose control over how they vote.
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