Burundi: what are the parameters of moral acceptability in art?

akadaje scene

The Burundian Press Regulatory Board, the CNC, banned on Monday April 24, 2023, 33 songs from being played on Burundian radios and TVs.

I was present at the conference where the 33 songs were sentenced to death. I must admit that I found the situation somewhat comical. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard Amb. Vestine Nahimana, Chairperson of the board mispronounce the titles of the banned songs.

These “bangers” banned, include extremely popular that top the music charts on various shows in Burundian media. According to the President of the board, Vestine Nahimana, they were said to undermine Burundian morals.

The list of banned songs includes music belonging to Burundians and Rwandans as well.

Some Issues with the Measure Taken

Firstly, the ban of these songs is an ironic situation given the lack of governmental support for the work of musicians. It seems that the government only recognizes artists at times of censorship and punishment. Consequently, this leaves little incentive for artists to comply with censorship as the government hardly supports them.

And also, there is this question that arises: how one can measure whether their artwork crosses the line of acceptability in terms of morality, especially given the fact that morality is such a blurred and undefined concept? The bad news is that those who hold the power to censor profit from this ambiguity, using it to take measures against artists and works they claim breach moral standards.

In my opinion, the decision by the CNC to ban 33 songs is a consequence of the board’s mechanical determination to uphold an ideal of Burundian morality, sometimes to the point of obsession. This ignores the realities of evolving modes of expression and risks failing to account for changing attitudes regarding what people needs when they consume art, especially music.

It’s even funnier that censorship, illustrated by the banning of 33 songs, cannot effectively contain all the songs played at Burundian shows. The censorship targets Burundian and Rwandan songs that are sung in languages that most people can understand. But what about the songs in French, Swahili or even in English that have not been banned yet contain content that may violate Burundian morality? This means you allow music from abroad to reach our market while local artists are banned in their own country. To me, that’s not a smart move.

Propose New Ideas Instead of Punishment

CNC needs to understand that punishment is not always the only solution. Their role should be to appreciate and support. If they contest what is being done, propose new ideas and approaches that keeps the environment conducive to artistic expression. Unfortunately, it seems that they have forgotten this.

Additionally, CNC must recognize that censorship has historically failed to suppress artistic expression. As the French writer Francois De Chateaubriand famously said, “censorship has lost all those who wanted to use it.”

Therefore, it would be more productive for CNC to collaborate with artists and explain to them why they should create art with healthy messages and avoid explicit content in their music videos. Especially, explaining to them that they have a responsibility to set an example for society, particularly for the youth.

Moving Beyond Censorship

The practice of condemning artwork often creates a cycle where the artist responds with even more provocative and controversial material. This is why it is important for artists and the CNC to sit down together and discuss the parameters of acceptability in art.

Any decisions regarding censorship must be made with respect for the artist’s right to freedom of expression. One has to bear in mind that it is through open dialogue and mutual understanding that we can promote healthy and constructive artistic expression while still upholding important moral standards.





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