A scene from ‘Rafiki’ banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board in 2018, arguing that the homosexual scenes in the film were illegal in Kenya. Homosexuality is a crime in many African countries / Photo: WKF

Why Kenya bans its first film to premiere at Cannes

Kenya has banned its first feature film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, accusing it of having “clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya, contrary to the law”.

Director Wanuri Kahiu said she is “incredibly sorry” to confirm the ban of Rafiki (or “Friend” in Kiswahili) by the Kenya Film Classification Board. Her film depicts a love story between two women.

“We believe adult Kenyans are mature and discerning enough to watch local content but their right has been denied,” she said on Twitter.

The director has said in interviews that she had been nervous about the film’s reception in Kenya, but had received some support. In a strange twist, just days prior, the head of the Kenya Film Classification Board [KFCB], Ezekiel Mutua, had praised her work in an interview with a local radio station.

But on Friday (4 May), the KFCB said in a statement that the film “contains homosexual scenes that run counter to the law, the culture and the moral values of the Kenyan people”.

Wanuri Kahiu defends ‘Rafiki’, saying it is a “reflection of society” / Photo: NWO


The board also accused producers of changing the original script that was licensed for production, which they say didn’t have romantic scenes between the female actors.

Under British colonial-era laws, homosexuality remains illegal in Kenya. A person caught in the act can face up to 14 years in prison, though rights activists say that it is rare for people to be prosecuted.

 Rafiki will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival next month in the “Un Certain Regard” category, earmarked for films with unexpected or marginal themes by emerging directors.

The film is adapted from a story called Jambula Tree by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko, who now lives in Nairobi. The main characters, who live in a housing estate in Nairobi, are the daughters of rival politicians.The story sees the two lovers beaten as their community turns against them.

Jambula Tree won the 2007 Caine Prize, which is awarded to African writers of a short story published in English.


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