State-sanctioned homophobia and discrimination in Kenya are nothing new. Nor is the sustained crackdown on queer content, organisations, and individuals. But for a country whose previous president stated that gay rights are an issue of ‘no importance’, the government sure does spend an enormous amount of time and taxpayers’ money thwarting any semblance of queerness.
Last year with the same fervour as the ban on the award-winning romantic film ‘Rafiki’, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) restricted the showing of Peter Murimi’s documentary ‘I am Samuel’. The film was an intimate portrait of a Kenyan man torn between duty to his family and their traditions – and wanting to live his truth – one of openness about his sexuality and dreams for his future.
A review by the Guardian claimed that the film “vividly conveys resilience, contrasting the intimacy of a brave couple with the brutality of prejudice.”
Generally, international and regional reviews lauded the documentary and its creators for showing the realities of this marginalised group and the courage with which they conduct their lives- despite a hostile and often dangerous environment.
But KFCB felt the producer clearly and deliberately attempted to, “promote same-sex marriage agenda as an acceptable way of life. This attempt is evident through the repeated confessions by the gay couple… as well as the character’s body language, including scenes of kissing of two male lovers…”
The CEO, Mr. Christopher Wambua, further observed that the film “tries to influence the viewer into believing that the older generation that was once against LGBTQ+ is slowly buying into the practice and accepting same-sex marriage…”
“We appeal to the media, religious organizations, the public, and other like-minded institutions to support the Board’s clarion call for creation and consumption of content that promotes Kenya’s moral values and national aspirations. Working in concert is critical in ensuring that we protect children from exposure to inappropriate content,” Mr. Wambua added.
“Any attempt to exhibit, distribute, broadcast or possess the restricted film within the Republic of Kenya shall, therefore, be met with the full force of the law.”
During a recent interview, the KFCB CEO reiterated that the board would continue to suppress queer content in mainstream media and that the government was working on barring the content online and on streaming sites as well.
The body is speaking to US streaming giant Netflix to ensure that future access to homosexual content was restricted.
“Because of our discussions with Netflix, they are curating their classification system that is very aligned with our laws with the view of ensuring that in future once we sign the agreement, some of this content is not visible at all within the republic,” said Wambua.
“Whether you are exhibiting on the theatre or VOD platform, there is no vacuum, the law is very clear.”
Pressing the false notion that sexuality is learned he went on to urge parents to “set screen times and monitor their child’s internet use because the internet is filled with unfiltered content for kids to be exposed to…”
Mainstream media and wilful discrimination
The government’s reasons for these restrictions hinge on the law and cultural, social, and religious fallacies. While all of them except those enshrined in colonial laws have been deconstructed in various think pieces and white papers, governments choose to cling to them to support a collective bias.
Mainstream media shows romantic content to children from toddler age well into adulthood. Animated movies tend to focus on at least one love trope, and animated characters share onscreen kisses often. If it were that romantic content was inappropriate for viewing, then this would not be commonplace. If it was true, that children are influenced by mainstream media and sexuality is learned then there would be no queer people at all. It can therefore, be deduced that it is not the type of content but who it features, and the influence argument is merely a vehicle for bold-faced discrimination and furthering purity politics.