By Ange Theonastine Ashimwe

Do we have a problem with black? Is this problem in East Africa? When melanin gets dark (if they’re African), we ban the video, but Nicky Minaj gets away with twerking on our TVs. Why?

Now it is true that East Africa has its own cultural norms – our own attitudes and behaviors that are acceptable to East Africans in general, but every time they ban local artists’ songs to protect certain cultural norms while they keep on playing Western songs that are, may I say, more sexually explicit than the banned one, I get confused. Where’s the disconnect here?

Remember when Kenyan ‘moral’ policeman (and notorious prude/homophobe), Dr. Ezekiel Mutua, issued the ban on Diamond Platinumz hit song, Tetema which has received massive airplay across East Africa, terming it pure pornography? We do. The lyrics were all about twerking and the video had girls in bikinis dancing. That is all. Which part of the sky has fallen?

So many Déjà vu moment for East African artists – for Sauti Sol after they dropped ‘Melanin’ featuring Patoranking. There was a lot of creativity employed in that song. And I wonder if it could have been banned from local television if it was put out by a Western artist; I’d doubt it in the highest. 

So, foreign content is OK to be played while our local content gets banned yet they are showcasing the same thing, or even worse?

The same way in Rwanda, Ancilla by Urban Boys was yanked off the air, criticized cryptically for a girl wearing lingerie that they termed as inappropriate. Yet, the girl is wearing the same thing in Chris Brown’s song, Back to Sleep? Surprisingly, Ancilla was burned, and Back to Sleep is still aired on local TV stations, gets constant play on local radio stations and Brown is still deemed as an ‘acclaimed’ artist. 

When it comes to Burundi, music bans are far more fundamental. President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government banned women from playing ritual drums to restore the value of Burundian drums. So…did that work?

Those in charge of the ban say these songs are against certain cultural norms. You ask them, ‘which culture?’ Nobody can respond to that. Some justify the ban by appealing to commandments delivered to us by some divine being, but they forget that not everyone believes in the Bible (which is also okay).

It is the easy path for East African officials to conclude that there’s a deficit of morality in local artists’ songs while praising Western songs for the same thing.

Culture is not static, it is dynamic and it is not beyond rights. Beyond that, the only way to avert change completely is to find a cave and hunker down there and wait for inevitability to stop coming.

Artists will keep on seeing the banning as limiting freedom of expression as long as there are no valid reasons other than misguided declarations of ‘cultural defence’ – as long the same thing from foreign artists is being aired.

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