Ezekiel Mutua: Unmasking Kenya's morality police

Ezekiel Mutua CEO Kenya Film Classification Board at the Nairobi Safari Club hotel. May 4th,2016. Photo/Elvis Ogina (Nairobi

Mention the name Ezekiel Mutua to a group of journalists and you will be met with sneers.

Mutua, the Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Film Classification Board was once the secretary general of Kenya Union of Journalists and you would think that journalists are his best friends.

But they are not, and their reasons are many. Chief among them is KUJ Awards fiasco of 2006, where prize money and television sets, meant for winners, did a disappearing act.

While journalists talk about the incident, Mutua — who is perched on KFCB’s plush 15th floor office at Uchumi House — wants to forget it. Completely. He does not even want to talk about it.

That issue has kept dogging his checkered career, and for him, this is a painful past. Or he could be feeling regretful and guilty about this sensitive issue, which imputes improper motive.

Lately, though, Mutua has been in the news more times than a news ticker for his new role as a moral police who is on a banning spree. Mutua’s juggernaut has left multiple victims in its wake. Ask beer giants, East African Breweries; or the manufacturer of condom brand, Durex. Or, for that matter, ask Coca Cola, whose soft drink advert was deemed to have crossed his regulatory red line.

If these industry players are brutally honest with you, they will let you in on the open secret that, in copy-writing circles, this dapper executive — who spots a tidy trim of jet black hair, goes by the moniker, Bwana Ban.

When I take issue with his record of fighting the government and then — taking a job as Director of Information — which meant doing a 360 degrees turn to being the government’s defender, Mutua argues that such misconceptions come with career changes.

Of course he caught flak for his metamorphosis, and, it seems like he will have a tough time washing off this turncoat tag

“When I came in last December,” Mutua explains, “I started by banning or demanding that adverts of beer and condoms be removed from the watershed period.

“It’s not easy because the industry isn’t used to regulation. The industry always resists regulation. And they don’t challenge the powers of the regulator on the basis of the law, but by personalising issues and reading politics into it.”

Nothing Is Spared

It sure does feel like, with each new ban, the creative space is shrinking. Plus, his squeaky-clean content crusade is spreading its tentacles in all spheres, from witchdoctors to who-knows-what next.

It seems like nothing is spared or safe. He opines that his bans are triumphs for morality, but, in social media, his whirling dervish work ethic has turned him into tragicomic meme.

There are times Mutua blatantly oversteps his mandate. And I tell him as much. I also tell him that his antics seem like he is courting another bride. Like other high profile civil servants before him, he is using public office and hogging media space to catapult him to the political planet.

“Do you know that from 1992 I have been associated with politics?” the PhD candidate cuts me short. But he quickly adds that “not all of us can fit into politics. Probably a time will come, but only after we’ve agreed with my family and I’ve accomplished specific goals.”

On his role as morality police, he says: “If I have no mandate, somebody will take me to court and stop me. Kenyans are litigious, but they’re also very enlightened.

“When I came here toward the end of last year, I found adverts that were running at prime time, during the watershed period, contrary to the rules.”

But adverts aren’t under your ambit, I throw my objection, edgewise.

“Read under Cap 222,” he says. “It says audio-visual content, in pictures and motion. Under the programming code, it donates under Section 3, all the powers to rate free-to-air TV and radio programmes to KFCB. There’s no single law we’ve broken.”

Faced with backlash, Mutua is unrelenting. He shows me his phone, and a message saying that YouTube has flagged the gay-themed song, Same Love.

This was after he banned it and had back-and-forth correspondences with Google

“Whether we need to rate content, whether we need to protect our children, whether we need to rate suitability for family viewing, to ensure that content is appropriate and our children are not exposed to content that is meant for adults ... we’ll do it.

“I believe I’m doing the right thing. There are issues about morality and inappropriate content ... programmes we’re hearing on FM stations and seeing on TV, we must regulate to protect our children from indecent exposure.”

Elected Unopposed

The father of two boys, who is married to a career educationist, was born 49 years ago, in Kaloleni, Mwala.

He started primary school at age 10, entirely by fault. In his place, bad children were taken to school to be disciplined. He was father’s obedient little boy, the fifth child in a family of 11, so he was home-bound.

“My father brewed karubu, the Kamba traditional liquor. He was Kaloleni’s finest, and his karubu brought imbibers — from all walks of life — to his joint. A customer noticed my aptitude and told my father, ‘Tomorrow, this one should go to school.’”

That was it. Without prior plans, Mutua started his long academia walk. In 1983, the walk took a literal turn when mother-and-son trekked for 50 kilometers for Mutua to join secondary school. He later transferred to Tala High School, and, after his A-Levels, joined Kenyatta University to pursue a degree in Sociology and Linguistics.

His career path involved a nine-year stint in a local media house, to being elected unopposed in 1998 as the chair of KUJ, to taking a big leap into the relatively unknown by ditching the newsroom and working full time in the trenches of KUJ.

“I think people don’t know my history,” Mutua gives me a steely gaze. “All those positions I’ve served, you’ll see that, if something needs to be done, I get it done.”

It’s only been six months. Yet, with a presence that’s so pervading, it seems like Mutua has been around since the Sixties. Which is why the question on some people’s lips is: When will Ezekiel Mutua take the last ride to the ground floor of Uchumi House?

From the look of things, he is in this for the longest haul. But he assures me that he’s not afraid to leg it. To walk away from it all. He’s done if before.

“I’ve walked out of jobs when I felt it didn’t sit well with my values. I’m one person who leaves jobs. And I’ll walk out, without qualms. If I leave here, you’ll still hear, Mutua. I don’t work because of political persuasion or monetary gain; I do it because of conviction.”

But Mutua is not alone in this ban-wagon.

If you have never heard of John Mututho, 60, then you must be living under the Nzambani Rock.

Mututho’s name is synonymous with Kenya’s version of Prohibition. In the USA, this was the period between 1919 and 1933 during which manufacture, sale and transportation of liquor was forbidden by the 18th Amendment.

For all the national attention that Mututho has garnered, in his own backyard of Naivasha, he has been accused of going on a witch-hunt against the soft-spoken but hard-tackling Tabitha Karanja, the proprietor of Naivasha-based Keroche Breweries.

The genesis of this alleged beef is not beer, per se, but the fact that the beer manufacturer supported his opponent, Jayne Kihara, in the 2007 elections.

There have been allegations of lobby groups buying legislators to push or kill certain agendas in Parliament. The same were leveled against Mututho, that he was allegedly using his Liquor Bill, not to save Kenya from drunkenness, as he claimed, but as an extortionist scheme.

Kenyans love their beer. And many saw a sinister motive when the Liquor Act, popularly known as Mututho Law even put down when they could have their tipple.

“When someone has a drink between 5pm and 11pm, he still has the time to go home, sleep for almost six hours and report to work the following morning for another productive day at his place of work,” Mututho was once quoted as saying, which seemed to be an affront to all-night drinking sprees.

In Kenya, a high profile person’s handle can be appropriated to anything; even an item that’s a total mismatch to their office or personality.

Mututho’s name may be synonymous with moral probity and sobriety. However, in Soweto, an informal settlement in Nairobi’s Embakasi Location, the term Mututho is used to refer to illegally-connected electricity from the national provider’s power lines.

That could be a light moment. But it’s also an ouch! moment for a person who wants to be seen as above reproach.

Even now, as the boss of the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Mututho’s run-ins with other directors have been well-documented.

Rallying Call

Such acts might not go down well with one Ken Njiru, the son of a former MP whose rallying call is civility, or uungwana.

He has turned his civility call into a social movement, which he hopes will remedy the uncivilised — or, like he puts it in Kiswahili, washenzi — among us. He calls his outfit, The Uungwana Initiative Campaign.

Ken says Uungwana is a social enterprise focusing on values, attitude and behaviour change at personal, organisational, national and international levels.

You may have seen Uungwana Initiative’s public service announcements that ran on Kenyan television to sensitise Kenyans on behaviour change.

If you haven’t seen them, then you didn’t miss anything.

Let me break it down for you. The two words — “sensitise” and “behaviour change” — are one of many in civil society lexicon.

Such terms are meant to make laymen believe that an organisation is a change agent. Yet, most times, the only thing that is changing is the organisation owner’s personal bank balance and social-economic status.

Well, Ken can’t please all the people all the time.

“Our mission is to help all in the society, more so our leaders, to search out the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. We have to know who we are first instead of using other people’s aspirations to gauge our integrity,” Ken says.

He may have good intentions. But, like they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.