By Maggie Fick
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan authorities have banned a film that tells the love story of two women on the grounds that it promotes lesbianism but activists said the ban would only promote interest in the movie.
“Rafiki”, a word that means friend in KiSwahili, was this week invited to premiere at next month’s Cannes Film festival — the first Kenyan film to receive such an invite.
The Kenya Film Classification Board announced the ban on Friday and said in a tweet: “Anyone found in its possession will be in breach of law”, referring to a colonial-era Kenyan law under which gay sex is punishable by 14 years in jail.
Board spokeswoman Nelly Muluka tweeted: “Our culture and laws recognize family as the basic unit of society. “The (board) cannot, therefore, allow lesbian content to be accessed by children in Kenya.”
Film director Wanuri Kahiu said: “I’m really disappointed because Kenyans already have access to watch films that have LGBT content, on Netflix, and in international films shown in Kenya and permitted by the classification board itself.”
“So to then just ban a Kenyan film because it deals with something already happening in society just seems like a contradiction,” she told Reuters.
The ban represents a reversal by the board whose head, Ezekiel Mutua, praised the film earlier this month.
“It is a story about the realities of our time and the challenges that our kids are facing especially with their sexuality,” he said on privately-owned HOT 96 FM radio.
Homosexuality is taboo across Africa and people who are gay face discrimination or persecution. In recent years, however, campaigners for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender rights have become increasingly vocal.
“It’s appalling, it’s a shame … Kenyans will view the film whether it has been banned or not, they will find a way to view it,” Lorna Dias, a lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender rights activist, told Reuters.
“In fact, Ezekiel Mutua has probably created enough of a platform to make even the least interested people curious.”
The ban coincides with a landmark case brought by gay rights campaigners to repeal Kenya’s law on gay sex on the grounds that it deprives sexual minorities of basic rights.
The film is adapted from an award-winning short story “Jambula Tree” by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko.
The film board used a hashtag, #KFCBbansLesbianFilm, that immediately sparked a barrage of supportive tweets from Kenyans who decried homosexuality. In 2015, the board banned the film “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
(Additional reporting by John Ndiso; Editing by George Obulutsa and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)