Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu and the Creative Economy Working Group (CEWG) have taken the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) and its CEO Ezekiel Mutua to court to challenge the constitutionality of the decision to ban the film Rafiki.

KFCB in April 2018 chose to ban the film in Kenya because the film’s producer Wanuri Kahiu declined to remove what the board defined as offensive classifiable elements. KFCB later claimed that Romantic scenes depicting the lead actors as lesbians in the film were absent in the script submitted for licensing and that the objective of film was to normalize homosexuality in Kenya with the story celebrating the resilience of the youngsters involved in lesbianism.

Rafiki is a love story between 2 Kenyan girls Kena and Ziki despite the pressures of their family and the conservative society they live in. The basis of the story is the reason the film was banned. The film was screened at the Cannes Film festival 2018, becoming the second film and the first Kenyan feature film to show at the prestigious film festival.

The 2 petitioners noted that the grounds for banning the film are unconstitutional because they limit freedom of expression . They further want sections 4,6,7,8,9,12,13,16,30,35 of Films and Stage Plays Act CAP 222 and sections 5(i), (ii), (iii), and (iv) of the KFCB Guidelines 2012 declared unconstitutional on the grounds that they limit freedom of expression. According to them, these sections criminalize free expression through film, limit freedom of film makers to seek, receive or impart information or ideas, restrict freedom of artistic creativity and limit freedom of expression.

The petitioners are also asking for special damages of Ksh. 8,500,000 in respect of losses the film Rafiki incurred as a result of the ban.

Under a Certificate of Urgency, the petitioners want the Court to grant a Conservatory Order allowing the lifting of the ban to enable the Oscars Selection Committee Kenya to consider the film for entry to the Academy for the Best Foreign Language Film category award at the 2019 Oscars. Without lifting the ban the film cannot be considered for selection. The entries close on 30th September, 2018.

“Sections of the Films and Stage Plays Act, CAP 222 are a threat to free speech and media freedom. They limit the freedom of artists to impart information and restrict freedom of artistic creativity, contrary to the constitutional limits of freedom of expression”, said Wanuri.

On the issue of the Oscars, Wanuri added “This isn’t about me personally. It’s about the freedom for all industry players to tell the stories they want to tell and not to be censored. The world is quickly becoming a village and the film industry is worth more than USD 30 billion globally. The opportunities for more Kenyans especially the youth to participate in this sector is immense. We should not let colonial laws stop us from achieving this.”

KFCB and its CEO Ezekiel Mutua have been on a morality crusade and have often overstepped the boundaries of their mandate. They have even attempted to license online video content, something that is outside their mandate.  In 2015, KFCB banned Stories of Our Lives, a story of LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transexual) people in Kenya, on the similar grounds.

Wanuri Kahiu is a Kenyan film producer and Director. Rafiki is a Kenyan produced film in which she wrote the scripts, co-produced and directed. The Creative Economy Working Group (CEWG) is a consortium of civil society organizations and institutions whose objective is to campaign for the advancement of legislative and policy reform in the creative sector for the advancement of culture, arts and media in Kenya.