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Shh! There's moral sheriff in town

By Kipkoech Tanui | April 22nd 2016

Kenya Film Classification Board Chief Executive Ezekiel Mutua is a former head of the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ). Under his watch, KUJ left a footprint carved out of a dubious distinction, where prize money and television sets donated for winners disappeared.

One judge in the panel, another seasoned journalist, Barrack Muluka, took to the microphone to denounce Mutua and the rest of the KUJ cast at the shambolic presentation ceremony. I must say I don’t know if Mutua and the rest of the KUJ top brass sliced part of the award pie for themselves, but the point is that he is not a stranger to many.

He also is a former Information Secretary, a post he held at the time his namesake, Alfred Mutua the Machakos Governor, was President Mwai Kibaki’s spokesman, reacting to anything and everything said about the misadventure called the Grand Coalition.

In another era when we were the hot-blooded men around town, Ezekiel Mutua was a sub-editor with Taifa Leo and I was the reporter with the Nation. One of his briefs was to translate the stories we filed in English into Swahili for this paper.

See, together with Arts and Craft, Swahili was on the time-table in primary school during our days but then it was not examinable at CPE level. So teachers used the Kiswahili periods to revise more fancy subjects like Mathematics and English. On reaching Form One, the nightmare began; Kiswahili was one of the compulsory subjects in Form Four and we had to stop adding nga to the end of verbs such as nasema, naenda, nakula and napiga because of their rural and Sheng extraction.

But back at the ‘Twin Towers’, as we all struggled with thin wallets, Ezekiel Mutua opened a video rental shop somewhere along Thika Road. As a friend I got good discounts and extended rental period from him and for my bachelor weekends.

As a self-professed Christian, Ezekiel would of course not touch blue movies but again he had no control over whether the movies he was ‘loaning’ s had kissing scenes, like the Coca Cola advert, upon which he has forced editing. He just looked at the classification on the tape, stuffed them in his bag, and brought them to us.

Today, unlike some of us his age-mates, I take note that he must have somehow found the antidote for greying hair, which anyway some of us won’t make much use of because balding has taken over! Ezekiel and his team have interpreted their ‘classification’ job to mean determination of content for everything including advertisements and news via pronouncements by politicians. Unlike the videos he used to hire out to us, Ezekiel wants to ensure he has a say on the scripting and imagery.

Listen to him: “No media should risk inviting politicians who are known for their ‘bad mouths’.” I wish his organisation could compile the list of possible candidates for this category and he would find they go up to the house on the hill. Back in the last regime, the President used to call some other Kenyans chicken droppings (it sounds obscene in Swahili language, which Kibaki used!)

Ezekiel Mutua could argue the videos he hawked were not meant for mass consumption, unlike the news and advertisements we churn in the media business. But then as he extends the territorial boundaries of his own belief systems, buoyed both by religious and political zealotry, ostensibly to help protect our children and families, he must also be sensitive to three things; he will fail miserably if he takes seriously his religious beliefs and seeks to impose its values on a secular, permissive and more liberal society.

Secondly, the fines he is imposing seem to ignore that there are courts in this country. Lastly, many support his goal, but dislike the way he dribbles the ball.

In widening the scope of his work, the man does a few good things like determination of when adverts on smoking, alcohol and romantic scenes should run. Failure to conform my friend comes with the risk of fines (outside court) running into hundreds of thousands.

But my biggest fear really is whether Ezekiel Mutua is not deliberately overarching his new job with hangovers from the Information ministry, where they came up with ‘regulatory’ measures that gagged the media!

On this score and I hope I’m wrong, my friend Ezekiel Mutua will again fail miserably, for it is only in Middle East where the moral police has made any meaningful progress, but at the price of chopping the heads of those who transgress their laws through such things as infidelity and kissing in public.

Which takes me to the new roles we need to assign this moralist; closure of all brothels in Kenya; elimination of pimping and prostitution; and hanging of all the corrupt. Only then will I make that congratulatory call to Esekiel, as my people say.

Finally, I almost forgot to remind you that at the time we were toiling on one shop-floor with Ezekiel, Alfred was in Australia filing his Msafiri columns and I would edit them for the weekly magazine during my time at the features desk. Today I look back with pride and say by knowing these two Mutuas, eye-catching in their own ways, I should probably get myself a T-Shirt emblazoned; ‘I Know People’. I am sure even the corrupt traffic police will take note and let me off.

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