‘You are what you consume’, this is Kenya Films Classification Board’s (KFCB) constant warning to Kenyans. Since 1998, when this state corporation was established by the Films and Stage Plays Act Cap 222 of the Laws of Kenya (1998), it was not until 2015 that KFCB became known to the larger public mass. KFCB was obscure before then. The year 2015 is no magical year, nor is 2015 a magical number. In 2015, Dr Ezekiel Mutua became the Chief Executive Officer of KFCB. Mutua’s laudable work at KFCB consists in censoring audio-visual content. This with the aim of promoting “our culture, national values and aspirations”, as KFCB’s website puts it. Mutua has nonetheless been the target of sharp criticism from some people, even earning himself callous monikers as ‘deputy Jesus’. But Mutua, to the chagrin of many, has kept firm.
Enough of the background. On 25th September, Mbagathi Study Centre would have the singular honour of hosting Dr Mutua. He would speak on the subject, “Moral Principles for National Development”. Naturally, the Red Room was packed.
Dr Mutua’s entry and introduction was very disarming, the tension was thus toned down. Tensions would drop further, once he began speaking in his engaging, passionate and unassuming manner. He began by letting us know him better.
“Education is such an equaliser”, he began. Mutua hailed from a humble background. Once while walking, he said, he was very hungry. He felt that if he walked a kilometre more he would collapse and die a forgettable death. His story would not have been heard. So he walked into a supermarket, grabbed a packet of milk, and a pack of loaves, and fell down to work. Once done, the security guards approached him and began caning him. He held the caning hand and asked earnestly and confidently, ‘Do you know whose son I am? Call the owner now.’ The owner, who was an Indian, was called in. To him, Mutua responded, almost comically, that he was a son of God.
The primary and secondary schools he attended, he would say with a chuckle, are not to be found on Google Maps. Through hard work and God’s merciful grace, he says, he landed at Kenyatta University where he did a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Linguistics. He would go on to work at Nation Media House beginning as a trainee reporter and rising through ranks to become a sub-editor.
From 2001 to 2007 he served as the Secretary-General of the Kenya Union of Journalists, from where he was picked to the opponent’s side to be the Director of Information & Public Communications (2007-2011). Then he served as the Information Secretary (2011-2015), later on, to become the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Film Classification Board(KFCB). While serving at the various positions in the Kenya Union of Journalists and the national government, he was also member to two worldwide committees. The United Nations Secretary General’s Committee on Information, and the UNESCO Communication Committee. Such membership would see him attend numerous meetings in New York and in Paris. As if that was not too much already, he would obtain a Master’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Nairobi. And later crown his educational journey with a Doctorate in Communication from Moi University.
This is why he says that education is an equaliser enabling all to empower themselves. To all, it gives “an equal platform to navigate life”. One more thing, in 2010, Dr Mutua was the proud recipient of a national award, the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (M.B.S.).
“Nations rise or fall on the basis of their moral values”
Nations have risen because of the good values they chose to bind themselves to. It so follows that all countries have national values, culture and aspirations and in many cases a constitution. All human societies bind themselves to a common code that maintains order, therefore, safeguarding progress.
Dr Mutua gave the example of Singapore that was led to national success by their able leader Lee Kuan Yew, who preached to his country the three words; meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty. Singapore would rise from being, at the time, at the same level as Kenya to great economic success, all within a single generation.
“Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless,” said Martin Luther King Junior. All upright societies have social norms that smoothen daily interaction. Respect, courtesy, civic responsibility and neighbourliness all go a long way to create an admirable society. Law may force people to do or not do certain things, but it can never force one to willingly espouse good values. Men and women, individually, can determine themselves to be good. So good laws are not enough. A national conversation about our heritage, culture, national values and aspirations has to be fostered. Then we can have a peaceful and prosperous society.
The media, dog-biting men, and entitlement
Responding to a question about the deep sense of entitlement among the youth, Dr Mutua would answer that today’s youth live in a different culture from the one he and his peers lived in.
Theirs, said Dr Mutua, was the era when the whole community had charge of every child. Every adult could discipline any child. Society saw its future in its children. Desiring the best for them it did not negotiate even for a moment what children could do and what they could not. Children and youth were given various responsibilities. Slowly they would learn the values of the community and come out very disciplined.
The younger generation has, on the other hand, grown up with a lot more comfort. We have grown up watching television, surfing the web, playing video games. Since most of the content being offered is from the West, the ideologies we have picked up are from the present-day West. The media has managed to give to us a very different yardstick of success. In consequence, our traditional values look inferior. This exaggerated view of success that the media has set before the eyes of the young, Dr Mutua posits, has been largely responsible for the sense of entitlement.
Given that Western stories are the ones being fed on, it so happens that bad ideologies from there are slowly getting imported here. Hence KFCB’s pivotal role of pulling down content or advertisements that undermine our national values. The media has been very effective in setting the agenda and influencing crowds, it necessarily, therefore, needs to be regulated.
A dog biting a man is no news but a man biting a dog is news, so goes the maxim of media. Dr Mutua laments the disappearance of good news. At present standards, what is bizarre is what is broadcasted. If this is the case, then all the good national stories and national conversations get no airtime. Then, slowly, we begin to forget our identity and easily fall for whatever comes our way. Dr Mutua also decries the presence of unscrupulous media businessmen who are only too willing to broadcast obscenities for profit. “The quest for profit at the altar of moral values,” he elegantly puts it. Not to mention the character assassination that our media is so often given to.
Be thou salt and light
Dr Mutua concluded with a clarion call that everyone should be, wherever they are, “salt of the earth and light of the world”, which is quite far from pontificating. It is by our example that change will be wrought in our society.