Kenyan creatives defend freedom of expression


Maryanne Nungu in a scene from ‘Who’s your Daddy’. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

The best performance that I’ve seen in recent times was not at Goethe Institut last Friday night where Nyef Nyef Storytellers staged a work in progress which Muthoni Garland and her crew will restage tonight at Storymoja, entitled ‘Living Memories’ of Sheroes.

Last week’s show saw sterling work by Checkmate Mido and Agnes Wangithi while Muthoni’s journey as Sefu was luminous. Still they were no match compared to ‘the best performance.’

Nor was it Martin Kigondu’s original play, “Who’s your Daddy?’ which had several outstanding performances, especially by Joe Kinyua and Maryann Nungu.

But the show had far too many musical interludes (however good the musicians were) for it to be considered a play or even a series of monologues. It would have been more appropriately called a Variety Show.

Nor was it even ‘Smile Orange’, directed by Nice Githinji and produced by Maggie Karanja at Phoenix Theatre; although I must say, it was worth waiting till Sunday night to watch, despite the initial disappointment of the opening night (on Thursday) being cancelled for ‘technical reasons’.

This Phoenix production runs this weekend through Sunday inclusive.

Smile Orange was well cast as the two Bilals — Bilal Wanjau and Bilal Mwaura —were wonderful foils for one another as they played, joked and sparred in the kitchen of the Mocho Beach Hotel along with Paul Ogola who gave an exceptional performance, totally morphing into a tight-tongued ‘idiot’ who turned out to be sharp as a tack.

Justin Mirichu also came across as an authentic Mr Gupta. And Victoria Gichora was perfectly ‘horrible’ as the haughty, chatty hotel receptionist who sadly got hoodwinked by some sweet-talking tourist by the show’s end.

No, the best performance that I recently saw was at Nairobi National Museum’s Louis Leakey Auditorium by a house-full of enlightened Kenyan ‘creatives’ who had come (at the drop of a hat after networking the night before roused interest in a little publicised ‘public forum’) to challenge what they saw as Ezekiel Mutua’s attempts to censor Kenyan creativity and artistic expression through a punitive Bill assembled by the CEO of Kenya Film Classification Board called the Film, Stage Plays and Publications Bill.

The creatives behaved in a most admirable and orderly manner, critiquing the proposed legislation in a systematic, eloquent and cogent way.

Their concerns about the Bill were and still are many, but the main one boils down to the unconstitutionality of the Bill which they said violates both the spirit and the letter of Article 33 of the Constitution covering citizen’s entitlement to freedom of expression.

It was only after Mr Mutua went to the podium and claimed there were other stakeholders that needed to be consulted that the creatives stood up and demanded his review of the constitution which should automatically negate the validity of the bill.

Mr Mutua seems to agree with the compromise proposal of Lizzie Chongoti, CEO of the Kenya Film Commission, which was that the Bill be put on hold while a formal policy on film be put into place.

“Without a policy framework to guide legislation, officials are essentially shooting in the dark,” said Gerry Gitonga, the former KFC legal adviser who had drafted the policy framework that had apparently gotten shelved in the Ministry but would have effectively guided further discussions.

But the KFCB chief executive, according to news reports, later claimed the creatives were “intoxicated,” making him sound like Donald Trump who claimed Hillary Clinton was drugged during the two US presidential candidates’ first public debate a fortnight ago.

Mr Mutua also described this unified group of some of Kenya’s most imaginative, articulate and well-informed artists in terms that suggested they were a fringe minority of no consequence.

Incidentally, the CEO technically only has authority over film despite the Bill having far-reaching implications online bloggers, publishers, or thespians.

But the process of their coming together to protect their rights and those of future generations of Kenyan artists is already under way.

So we look forward to seeing even better performances by the creatives than already seen at the National Museum a fortnight ago.

[email protected]