The coddling of the Kenyan mind

Everybody remembers drinking coke (or maybe fanta)as a kid, when it was the staple drink of every family occasion of any significance. It still is, although nowadays we drink it more often. Of course, with the times, Coca-Cola has evolved in everything that appertains to it, from bottle design to promotional ads. These last are actually so ubiquitous that they have become veritable cultural elements in their own right. Kids memorise them, and adults love them.

Recently however, the company got on the wrong side of the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), headed by one Ezekiel Mutua, for airing a certain ad on TV. The ad contained a scene that was inappropriate for anyone to see, but the KFCB objected to it — after initially approving it and being lobbied by the public — particularly because it was being aired to an audience which contained children.

The board got the company that handles Coke’s marketing to cut out the scene for TV, but not before a furious debate took place among members of the public. Nothing was wrong with the ad, one side maintained. The ad contained dangerous content, the other proclaimed, in support of KFCB. Of the former group, perhaps one of the strongest members was Larry Madowo of NTV. In an article that is remarkable solely for its intellectual shallowness, he dismissed Mutua’s attempts as a ploy to gain publicity.

At the heart of the debate was the perennial question of whether advocating for traditional values is naïve prudishness, an inveterate clinging to outdated principles unsuited for modern living. Times have changed, people proclaimed. Kissing is not a taboo anymore. People kiss on the streets and in movies anyway. There is no way KFCB will stop that. And our kids still turn out OK. So raising this whole fuss about a single scene in one ad is useless and uncalled for.

But that is where the problem comes in. How did we get here in the first place? And how sure are we that our kids are turning out OK? Why is AIDS the leading killer of Kenya’s young people between 10 and 25? It is easy to dismiss values after appending the adjective “traditional” to them, and it is easy to go with the current in proclaiming that, yea, it is useless to resist some other values, after appending the word “modern” to them. What we fail to consider is the more important question; is it right to leave our society open to all influences, even those we know at the bottom of our hearts to be wrong, just because that’s the direction the world has taken?

In the end, we cannot define who we are. A nation which stands by as the intellectual and cultural trends of the world buffet it from all sides can only go so far to identify and keep itself. Minds get coddled, consciences get numbed and we can afford to accuse the people who have the good sense to do something of the faults we hate ourselves for. We can afford to proclaim that having certain beliefs don’t mean we can impose them on people, even where some actions have nothing to do with beliefs but rather stem from common sense.

Of course, KFCB can only do so much. The movies we speak of will continue having those scenes, and young couples (and maybe a few older ones) will continue kissing on the streets. In fact, coke ads on billboards across Nairobi still have ladies in bikinis looking suggestively down at motorists and pedestrians. But the debate around KFCB’s actions has served to highlight a more worrying trend. Kenya’s intellectuals are sitting on their hands as things get out of control. Political correctness reigns supreme, because certain views are castigated as intolerant and old-fashioned.

If nothing is done about this, no one can say what will happen when the larger ideological storm sweeping across the West finally breaks on Kenya.

Feature image: Source unknown.

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