Throughout his tenure as CEO of the Kenya Film and Classification Board, Ezekiel Mutua has courted controversy. The man with a moustache and thick, properly combed hair is weeks away from finishing his term, but Kenyans will not forget him in a hurry.
There are those who have seen him as a moral police. Others as a man punching above his weight. And others still as a petty man obsessed with himself and craving publicity to stay relevant.
Mutua, whose term elapses early next month, is keeping his fingers crossed. His continued stay at the helm will be determined by a new board, against opposition from a section of the public who feel he is trying to babysit them, and from filmmakers who accuse him of strangling their trade.
But biting more than he can chew is not new to the man. Back in 2008, when he was the Information director at the then Information ministry, Mutua threatened to disband the Media Council of Kenya for what he claimed was playing with government.
The council had formed a team to audit how journalists had covered the 2007 general elections, which angered him. He reacted with the hope that his actions would endear him to then President Mwai Kibaki, who was commencing his second term after protracted and violent polls.
To journalists, Mutua invokes memories of their ‘stolen’ television sets.
Before 2006, when he was the Kenya Union of Journalists secretary general, Mutua was a defender and friend of scribes. He started transforming himself to a foe when he bungled the 2006 media awards, by failing to deliver the prize money and televisions sets to winners.
In 2017, he kicked off a storm by banning billboards and broadcast advertisements with strong sexual, alcohol, gambling and violence appeal.
Also in his blacklist were betting adverts, witchdoctor posters, as well political commercials that demean politicians and their parties and manifestos, and those that strengthen stereotypes. He warned broadcasters who did not toe the line of dire sanctions.
The ultimatum drew the wrath of the Communications Authority of Kenya. CAK director general Francis Wangusi dismissed the board as having no powers to issue such demands to police broadcasters on the programming code.
Mutua was not deterred. In his next sensational act, the self-styled anti-gay crusader posted a photo on Facebook, posing with his passport and visa in September 2016.
“Because of my moral values, including the banning of content promoting LGBT and atheist culture in Kenya, someone wrote in a local daily that I will never get a visa to the USA,” he wrote.
“I not only got it but it came on a diplomatic passport and I didn’t even have to go to the Embassy for biometrics or pay the visa applications fee. It was delivered to my office free of charge thanks to our efficient Foreign Affairs ministry and highly courteous US Embassy officials. America, here we come. To God be the glory.”
The stunt ended up sparking a diplomatic row pitting him against the Immigration department, who ordered him to surrender the travel documents upon entry in Kenya, as he was not qualified to hold a diplomatic passport. Mutua ate humble pie.
This year he’s caused a stir after banning safe abortion promotion and lately the ‘Rafiki’ lesbian love film.
‘HUNGRY FOR POWER’
Bloggers Association of Kenya chairman Kennedy Kachwanya describes Mutua as a man hungry to exercise powers that don’t exist in his purview.
“We can say the man is passionate about his work. Unfortunately he behaves like a tethered man in a small room whereas he wants to roam free, making him act and overstep his mandate in almost all the occasions,” Kachwanya said.
“His mandate is strictly to classify films. It means all he is supposed to do is categorise a film as suitable for under-16 or those above 18 years or whether it should be aired at night or during the day. But he does less of that and has concentrated on playing to the gallery, banning this and that in the name of morals.”
The bloggers’ head said the creative industry needs free space to operate, accusing Mutua of gagging artistes and, thus, scuttling any efforts to grow.
“He seems to be a sadist, too. For instance, he celebrated when Rafiki, a Kenyan-produced film, missed out on the Oscars. Who does that?” Kachwanya asked.
Blue Sky Films managing director Jim Shamoon said Mutua is hardworking and results-oriented, though he lacks objectivity in executing his mandate.
Without a gazette notice or presidential executive order, he took over licensing of films, and this has seen reluctance by producers to submit their work for licensing, Shamoon said, adding that Mutua also insists on classifying scripts before the films are made.
“His purist approach has discouraged producers and led to cancellation of big international film production deals. Kenya has become hostile to the film industry because of this increasing censorship,” Shamoon said, adding that Mutua has had a polarising effect on the sector.
“In his agenda, he left out those perceived as upmarket producers and those who bring in big film business. He engaged more slum and small-time producers, which he regards as the only stakeholders, which is populist. He should instead involve every player and focus on the business model of film industry,” he added.
During last year’s Oscar Awards, a source who travelled to the US told the Star that Mutua had travelled for the annual ceremony, though he was blocked from attending because he had no invite.
“This is the time I realised the man preaches water and takes wine. He took some of us to Las Vegas. This is a sin city headquarters of gambling and orgies. His choice baffled every one of us, because on landing, he put on the moral lenses,” the source said.
In May this year, Mutua had a first-class ticket and a full six-star hotel booking to attend the world’s prestigious annual Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately he never accessed any of the venue areas because he had not been invited. Last year, together with the then Culture and Arts CS, he attended the festival amid accusations of joyriding.
Two Kenyan actors of ‘Neophobia’ film, which had been picked for screening, missed out on the event because of lack of facilitation. They accused Mutua of getting free trips off their work.
In his defence, Mutua said: “I travel everyday in my own capacity as CEO of KFCB. I don’t need to have anybody’s film to travel. My travel just like other top government officials is cleared by State House, and you will never be cleared to go and joyride.”
At the office, he is known as a headmaster, who polices any staff who seems to challenge him or have alternative viewpoints.
“He is a know-it-all boss. His word is gospel. Those who don’t sing his songs are isolated and humiliated,” a staff said.
In Mwaniki Mageria, the secretary general of Riverwood, Mutua has a supporter. One who believes Mutua is the right man for the job and who performed well.
“Prior to his appointment, little or nothing was heard about film. But as the CEO, he elevated the discussions that have helped bring conversations on film to the national debate,” Mageria said.
He helped enforce regulation in the film industry, setting out operation parameters. “Initially we worked in a free market, where everything goes. But his regulation has helped grow the sector by improving content quality, enabling us to compete effectively and professionalising the sector,” he said.
Mageria said it was false to accuse Mutua of overstepping his mandate, saying if that was the case, then he could have been sued for it.
“Our freedom of expression had started eroding our moral fabric. Popularity was slowly overtaking humanity, and some of us were aping or becoming so receptive to rogue or alien lifestyles away from how we were brought up,” Mageria said.
“But someone had to remind us of our value system and call it out as it is, and that person was Mutua.”
Mutua on his part said he has lived up to his job’s calling, performed beyond expectations and has no apologies for his actions.
“I’d rather be accused of overzealousness than lethargy. I have raised the profile of KFCB. In just three years, everyone knows the organisation. I tripled its revenues from Sh88 million annually that I got when I came here. I have also built partnership across, whose value is way beyond Sh2 billion,” Mutua said.
His stand on films, he said, is informed by the desire to have productions that promote values like historical heritage, hard work, honesty and a just society.
“We are what we consume. If we allow the country to consume violence then we will remain a conflict-prone country,” he said.
“If it’s easy life and shortcuts, then we will breed a society that depends on tokenisms and thrives on sponsor’s notion.”