Kenya: Theatre play about oil explorations banned

11 April 2013

Officials from the Ministry of Education in Kenya banned the winning theatre play ‘Shackles of Doom’ from the National Drama Festival set for Mombasa in April 2013, on the grounds that it contains hate speech, reported George Orido for Standard Media.

Ouko Okusah’s NTV Kenya report on was viewed 15,800 times during the first week after it was uploaded on 4 April 2013.

Cleophas Malala, the man behind the manuscript the play ‘Shackles of Doom’, maintains that his piece of art is not laced with “tribal and ethnic undertones”, as claimed by the ministry.

According to the Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival Executive Secretary, Sirengo Khaemba, the play from Butere Girls in Western Kenya did not meet the national values of cohesion and integration.

The controversy around the banning of the play continues to raise questions, wrote George Orido.

The play depicts life in Turkana, the northern region of Kenya, close to Sudan and Uganda, where recent oil explorations have resulted in major oil discoveries that have since excited national discourse on how the benefits of the oil will — or will not — help the locals in the area.

Speaking from Kakamega, the Nzoia region and Kakamega County drama secretary Wycliffe Indakwa expressed sadness following the ban: “We are committed to ensuring that this play is polished as a work of art as opposed to activism,” said Mr Indakwa.

Standard Media – 3 April 2013:
Play banned over upsetting remarks
The Ministry of Education officials have banned a winning play from the National Drama Festival set for Mombasa this month. By George Orido

Daily Nation – 4 April 2013:
‘Shackles of Doom’ for play on sharing of natural wealth
Cleophas Malala is a politician and a scriptwriter, but his play has been adjudged to be politically incorrect.

Daily Nation – 10 April 2013:
‘Shackles of Doom’ ban a threat to freedom of expression
Kenyan thespians and human rights activists are hopping mad about the treatment of Cleophas Malala’s award winning play, Shackles of Doom, which just got banned by the National Drama Committee of the Ministry of Education. By Margaretta wa Gacheru

 UPDATE:  On 15 April 2013 Freemuse received the following:

ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to lift a ban on a play about power and inequality among ethnic groups in the country. The Ministry of Education’s National Drama Committee has prohibited the Butere Girls High School from performing ‘Shackles of Doom’ at the upcoming National Drama Festival on the grounds that it is likely to incite hatred and therefore breaches national security. ARTICLE 19 finds this ban to be a violation of freedom of expression, which is protected in both the constitution of Kenya and under international law

“This kind of ban is reminiscent of the 1980’s and 1990’s when freedom of expression was routinely censored under trumped up claims of sedition. Voices and viewpoints which did  not support the Government were often silenced. Kenya has fought long and hard to enjoy the plurality that it does today. These hard won gains must not be squandered by suppressing artistic freedom on the basis of unsubstantiated national security concerns” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

The right to freedom of expression includes the right to create and share artistic works (including theatre) that may be considered by some to be contentious, insensitive or offensive. Controversy is not a legitimate reason for banning a play and censorship of this kind has a dangerous chilling effect on free speech and artistic expression.

The ability for all people to speak freely, receive and impart information and to engage in open debate about issues of public importance is vital for a healthy democracy.

The “Shackles of Doom” ban should be understood as a response to the social and political climate. Kenya is attempting to address historical injustices, the inequitable distribution of resources, divisions and discrimination. Artistic expression, among others, plays a crucial role in ventilating these issues as part of the process of cohesion and reconciliation.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Ministry of Education to review the National Drama Committee’s decision and lift the ban on the play.

ARTICLE 19 also calls on the government to denounce this censorship as an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression in accordance with Section 33 of the Constitution of Kenya and the African Charter of Human and Peoples rights to which Kenya is a party..

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