When chairman raps CEO publicly


The drama pitting top KFCB bosses against each other is fodder for study by governance observers. 

Watchmen at buildings, residences and car parks are, in my experience, some of the greatest purveyors of power plays. My power-play-biased mind interprets each watchman’s smirk as: “I hold the power to open or close this gate. You cannot come in unless I open it. You will recognise that power and kiss the ring of the askari gods before I let you in.”

Do you know who else holds power? A government regulatory authority. That power should be used judiciously so that the recipients of the regulatory authority’s services understand the objective of that use of power. What is the mischief that the rules and regulations are trying to cure?

If your regulated populace cannot understand that, they will view unjustified pronouncements as regulatory overreach and then grudging compliance and, often, regulatory evasion ensues. So you can imagine the uproar when the acting chief executive officer of the Kenya Films and Classification Board (KFCB) woke up one day and decided that YouTube is a dusty movie hall on Luthuli Avenue that he could walk into and thump his regulatory chest.

Towards the end of last month, the CEO sent out a series of individual letters to several popular Kenyan content creators and asked them to cease and desist from creating and releasing videos that had not received approval from the agency.

Quoting from the Film and Stage Plays Act, the CEO vituperatively called out content creators, frothing at the mouth with righteous indignation that these young and wildly successful creatives could purport to bypass KFCB’s regulatory power to authorise broadcasting, possession, distribution and exhibition of film and broadcast content in the country. Globalisation met the provincial and orthodox postulations from a red-carpeted, wood-panelled CEO office.

The CEO was likely emboldened by a highly publicised rapping of a Kenyan musician who had been hauled into the KFCB board room a few months earlier in March 2024 and read the riot act for publishing music videos. Quoting from their own press release, the KFCB management said that the artist “….was hard-pressed to explain why he had blatantly contravened Sections 4 (Part II) and 12 of the Cap 222 governing the creation, broadcasting, possession, distribution, and exhibition of audio-visual content in Kenya. The artiste was further put to task over the use of vulgarity, nudity, indecency, and violent dancing styles in his content, specifically in the ‘Niko Uchi’ song, among others.”

The acting CEO has been playing his part well in “protecting children from harmful exposure” and had issued a press release a year ago in April 2023, detailing the excruciating pain that he was undergoing at the loss of values demonstrated by videos being shared across Kenyan social media. But context is key.

The same place that the Kenyan content creators are posting their content is one in which creators all the way from Timbuktu to the Pacific island of Vanuatu can also be found by internet-enabled Kenyan children. The challenge for parents is how to limit access to harmful content. The challenge for KFCB, which their website already demonstrates they are doing, is to ensure continual engagement with these digital platforms including TikTok to discuss content monitoring and moderation.

Anyway, the chairman of the KFCB board of directors swooped in from left field to save Kenyan content creators who were just Netflix and chilling. A former radio presenter himself, the chairman issued his own statement on social media posting, “Our content creators should be supported all the way. They should be encouraged and supported 100%...I have directed the management to withdraw the notices and organise an engagement with all the stakeholders. We should be talking about thousands of opportunities if not hundreds of thousands of jobs in the digital media.”

It is a sad, scratch that, horrifying day when the chairman of a board has to come to the same unlicensed for broadcasting social media and air the organisation’s private lingerie to dry. The truth of the matter is that a board chair cannot direct management to do anything. Particularly when he is not an executive chair.

However, the board can. While everyone toasted the Pyrrhic victory over what appeared to be regulatory overreach, what was lost in the celebration was the greater governance overreach that had occurred. And, more importantly, the public way in which it was done. As the acting CEO nurses his rapped knuckles, governance observers will be asking themselves if the chairman’s misplaced public directive was genuinely aimed at helping the “victims” or laying the groundwork for personal, simmering political ambitions.

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