Media Bill and Sexual Rights

84D: Any person who publishes or transmits or causes to be published in electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest and its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied therein, shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand shillings or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both. —The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008

I need a lawyer to explain the scope of this measure.

My training in language and literature tells me that it is defined by being undefined, limited by being limited, and thus all-encompassing and capricious. What is lascivious? Who gets to define it? What does it mean to “deprave” or “corrupt” undefined “persons,” who are, in the fuzzy language of this bill, always innocent, un-depraved, un-corrupted?

This portion of the bill is incredibly worrying, in part because we have seen what such measures accomplish—or try to accomplish in the States. Such broad measures have implications for sexual education (showing body parts might be deemed “lascivious”); huge and worrying implications for reproductive health (how does one explain contraceptives without illustrations?); terrible implications for legislation against sexual abuse and sexual violence (one has to be graphic); and is incredibly repressive and hostile toward sex-positive arts and activism.

Those of us engaged in sex-positive and body-positive initiatives have used online tools because we know, all too well, that Kenya’s streets and bookstores are not always safe for the kind of work we want to disseminate. We have written about sex with each other, with strangers, about masturbation in strange and wonderful places, about the sex toys we use and buy, and how we use them and buy them, about good sex and bad sex and indifferent sex. We have, on occasion, published photographs, provided links to sites that have enriched our sexual lives and pleasures.

I have written, for instance, a piece called “Taking Dick Seriously,” which attempts to counter the “grips of power” with an account of “bodies and pleasures,” as Foucault has it. I have insisted that frottage is a bodily practice with conceptual depths. I have used and continue to use terms such as fellatio and cunnilingus and analingus: blow jobs, eating out, digging in.

Online writing has provided a necessary, vital space for Kenya’s sexual cultures, most especially for those of us who find it difficult, if not impossible, to receive social approbation, who are informed that we are all heterosexual and all marry and all want children. In blogs and online forums, in loud and sometimes angry discussions, we have carved out spaces of pleasure.

And now, the government threatens these spaces.

Let’s be very clear about this: with the exception of the very happening Timothy Njoya, religious and cultural leaders will NOT stand up to this repressive measure, nor will they see it as repressive.

The cant is all too familiar: such obscenity is “westernized,” it is “destroying our children,” it is “against tradition.” And the Kenyan public, like the U.S. one, will jump at code words: “destroying children!” “against tradition!” “mzungu madness!”

And ignore the Kenyans who fuck like rats in cars parked on the sides of the road, in parking lots, in bathrooms in clubs, in maize plantations; the Kenyans who fuck like rats in the morning, tea-time, lunchtime, tea-time, dinner, and post-dinner tea-time; the Kenyans who fuck like rats even now, as I’m writing this. I’m not saying it’s good fucking. I’m just saying it happens.

It will ignore the Kenyan men who “never” masturbate and “need sex” at least “once a day,” and line up outside “doctors” to buy “man power—it keeps you going.”

It will ignore the fact, not rumor, the fact that Kenyans are highly sexualized, that one out of every three ads in the newspapers is associated in some way with sex and sexuality, that, increasingly, adult dvds with local content are readily available.

Kenya is sexually saturated.

But this doesn’t exist in this bill, which seeks to protect the innocent Kenyans from those terrible purveyors of filth who will “corrupt” and “deprave” the Kenyans who already fuck like rats.

This one clause is dangerous. It is reason enough to be worried. And it is repressive enough that queer rights and queer-based activism online needs to gear up for a fight.

Over the next three years, I’m publishing queer-themed material in Kenya, on my blog and on the streets. We can’t risk losing sexual freedoms we have yet to have. And this, this is a fight I’m taking on.

5 thoughts on “Media Bill and Sexual Rights

  1. These are very pertinent issues being raised here. I for one I am very worried about publishing laws and leaving terms and concepts to be defined at will by the implementing authorities. If we dont rise up to revolt against this PNU-ODM-ODMK dictatorship, then Kenya is going back to the dark days

  2. The latest precedence only show clearly that the coalition government is not working on 50/50 basis. One partner is more powerful than the other. If nothing is done about this Media Bill then Kenya will step back 10 years.Talk about turning back the clock!!

  3. This is interesting.
    I as a practicing reproductive health professional might be worried. However, I know that there is a definition of what is erotic. I recall reading somewhere that showing an sexual organ at a certain level of arousal is what constitutes lascivious portrayal. If a penis is not erect it is not deemed to to pornographic and the same applies to the breasts. That is why you can get away with showing a breast feeding woman with her mamaries exposed, but cannot publish a picture of your girlfriend or wife’s titties when they are in a state of arousal. If some seriousness is brought into the debate there are lines that can be drawn. My only beef would be child porn since the children do not have a say. As for adults showing off their god-given talanta I have no qualms.

  4. Thanks for the comment!

    I am not familiar with Kenya’s laws or definitions on obscenity–I’d need to ask a lawyer for clarifications. I do know that in U.S. law cases the lines get really fuzzy. Thus, for instance, the pictures many of us have of naked sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and so on–and especially in Africa where children really do run around naked!–have, in some cases, been tried as child porn (though, to be fair, with little success).

    Plus, we also have to contextualize obscenity, in a country where some churches actually tell women what to wear and what not to wear and where young women have been stripped and at times raped for daring to show off a little leg.

    I also think we need to be explicit about sex and sexuality: ignoring it does not mean people won’t have it. And safety, to my mind, is bound to information, not simply ideas about information. We need to get graphic so we can be informed and can make informed decisions. (By the by, the nipple test fails, a lot. What’s the distinction between nipples on a very cold day and aroused nipples? Where do we draw the line?)

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