Will Ezekiel Mutua Yield To Mounting Pressure, Or Stand Firm In Defense Of CMO Independence?

MCSK Chairman, Dr Exekiel Mutua has been embroiled in a war of words from various quarters this month due to the latest earnings disbursed to artists registered with the outfit. A social media spat that started with Nonini, a Genge legend, now based in the US, eventually drew more attention to the perennial issue that has plagued artists throughout various regimes.

This piece looks at the opposition Mr Mutua faces from within the government, how he has stood up to it, and why he feels it is important to defend the autonomy of CMOs despite the numerous arguments in favour of digitizing royalty collection snd disbursement.

Public Service CS Moses Kuria’s Scathing Rebuke

In a fiery interview on Wednesday 21 February, Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria unleashed a verbal barrage aimed squarely at Ezekiel Mutua, the CEO of the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK). With no punches pulled, Kuria lambasted Mutua, declaring Kenya as no longer a nation of fools. “You can tell that guy, Ezekiel Mutua, there are no more fools in this country,” declared Kuria,” Questions are going to be asked, serious questions are going to be asked following due process. The time for misusing our artistes and talents is long gone.”

Moreover, Kuria’s rebuke extends beyond mere rhetoric, suggesting action be taken as a necessity to solve the MCSK situation once and for all.“Due process will take place and we are going to salvage our artistes from the yoke of those people who want to exploit them. They will get their rights. We have got amendments coming up in the Copyright Act and they are going to sort out this problem once and for all.”

This is not the first time the two have clashed this month. Earlier, they clashed when CS Kuria suggested the collection and disbursement of royalties through e-citizen. Mutua suggested that the idea would be ‘impossible to execute’.

When a Cabinet Secretary says the Government will collect royalties for artists through e-Citizen, it’s the highest level of ignorance. Music is a talent like football or athletics,” said Mutua.

KECOBO’s Joshua Kutuny Speaks

Joshua Kutuny, the chairperson of the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO), emerged as a formidable voice in the ongoing debate surrounding royalty distribution. The (KECOBO) chairperson suggested that government arms-The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) as well as the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI)- be invited to probe alleged irregularities in royalty distribution among Collective Management Organizations (CMOs).

At the heart of Kutuny’s address lies a profound concern for the equitable treatment of artists and the transparent management of royalties. Quoting data at his disposal, Mr. Kutuny pulled no punches in exposing the discrepancies within MCSK’s financial dealings. “While KAMP and PRISK declared a collection of Sh249 million and they accounted for Sh61 million and Sh52.7 million, respectively, MCSK however, on its part declared receipts of Sh109 million representing a shortfall of Sh26 million,” the former Cherengany MP said.

But Kutuny’s critique extends beyond the declared numbers. Taking issue with the percentage of money disbursed vis a vis that collected, he questions MCSK’s actions,and accused them of failure to adhere to regulatory guidelines, particularly in the allocation of royalties.

All the Societies did not set aside royalties from collections in quarters two, three and four despite improved business environment. As per the Copyright (CMO) Regulations, the CMOs ought to have distributed at least Sh173 million or 70 per cent of that collection. This is clearly not the case here,” he said.
However, Ezekiel Mutua, the CEO of MCSK, was quick to push back against Kutuny’s assertions, defending the organization’s practices and autonomy. “Today KECOBO says we should have paid using something they are calling the 70% rule. Where exactly in the Copyright Act or any other law in Kenya does it talk of the 70% rule?” It is evident that Mutua views KECOBO’s scrutiny as unwarranted interference, staunchly defending MCSK’s prerogative to operate independently.

When Dennis Itumbi Called Out Mutua

In a clash that predates the fiery rhetoric of Moses Kuria and the damning revelations of Joshua Kutuny, digital strategist Dennis Itumbi emerged as a vocal advocate for reform in Kenya’s music industry. Armed with a vision for transparency and efficiency, Itumbi ignited a fierce debate over the collection and  management of artist royalties.

Itumbi’s call for government intervention struck a chord with many, as he highlighted the exorbitant administrative costs plaguing CMOs like MCSK. However, Mutua was quick to push back against Itumbi’s assertions, vehemently defending MCSK’s autonomy and resisting any semblance of government interference. “We are all for accountability, we are all for technology, but we are just against government interference in private property,” 

Itumbi remained steadfast, pointing to years of inefficiency and vague promises within the current system, arguing that a digital overhaul was long overdue. “The CMO does not have to be MCSK or X or Y. My only conflict on this issue is my desire to resolve it once and for all with the scales tilted in favor of the artists.”  

He added that he is ready to go to court should it come to it, “If you are preparing for court, as you have threatened to do, instruct the lawyer to prepare in advance, my friend, because it will be e-Citizen, so that the musicians can be in control.” 

Mutua’s Resistance Amidst Calls for Reform

Despite mounting pressure, from the artistic community and within government, Mr.Mutua remains steadfast in his opposition to government-led initiatives in royalty management. His staunch defense of CMO autonomy underscores a fundamental tension between regulatory oversight and artistic independence. 

As stakeholders grapple with thorny questions of governance and accountability, one thing remains clear: the fight for artist rights is far from over.