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He is the most famous cartoonist in Kenya, if not all of East Africa. But it’s incognito that Godfrey Mwampembwa, known as “Gado”, arrives in the Carwash where he has made an appointment. And the heated discussion he begins with the waitress of this bar adjoining a car wash – the latest fashion in Nairobi – concerns only the degree of cooking of his chicken soup.
The controversies he seizes on to crunch the local political seraglio are much more seasoned. In a Kenya that is preparing to vote on August 9 for its next president, Gado unleashes his arrows with method and caustic humor. His drawings show Kenyan leaders as boxers in a ring or gangsters ready to do anything to win.
“The only question we ask ourselves in this election is what is the lesser evil? Everyone is going to vote while pinching their noses”loose in a deceptively nonchalant tone the designer of Tanzanian origin, installed in Kenya for three decades.
It must be said that the configuration of the ballot is not trivial. Historical opponent Raila Odinga received the support of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s party, which defeated him in 2013 and 2017 and is barred from running for a third term. His “challenger”, Vice-President William Ruto, after counting on the support of the Head of State, was gradually marginalized by the unusual Kenyatta-Odinga duo, without however deciding to leave. the government.
In “Gado language”, this translates into a drawing showing the two new allies pointing their revolvers at William Ruto, who defends himself by also targeting his rivals while embracing the outgoing president. “Who represents the real opposition? Who can criticize the government’s record? It’s bizarre as well as absurd.”pings the 52-year-old cartoonist who publishes in the newspaper The Standardone of the country’s two major daily newspapers, most of his sketches.
Most, but not all. Some are refused because they are considered too embarrassing. Gado is saddened but hardly surprised. He then turned to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where he was followed by several hundred thousand subscribers who appreciated his funny and fierce pen and his ability to take on all subjects: from corruption to ethnic struggles, by way of by religious extremism and the growing presence of China in the country.
Six years ago, in 2016, his freedom of tone has already earned him to be thanked by the newspaper The Nation, the largest daily newspaper in East Africa, with which he had collaborated for a quarter of a century. The Kenyan government was irritated by its drawings of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, represented with cannonballs in reference to the proceedings – now abandoned – by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in the post-election violence of 2007 -2008.
“Freedom of expression is under threat in Kenya. Politicians have infiltrated the media and have many ways to buy them off or intimidate them”, believes Gado. Although guaranteed by the 2010 Constitution, respect for press freedom in the country is regularly attacked. As Reporters Without Borders reminds us, many Kenyan media are owned by politicians or figures close to the government. Newsrooms are under strong pressure while the process of allocating state aid to the press is criticized for its opacity.
However, “Kenya is certainly still better off in this area than most countries on the continent”, judges the cartoonist with the salt and pepper goat. Born in Dar es Salaam in 1969, the Tanzanian knows what he is talking about. After thirty years in Kenya, where he landed at the age of 23 after winning a prize in a drawing competition, he cannot imagine being able to work elsewhere in the region.
It was, moreover, in his native country that he was first censored, after an unflattering caricature of the former Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete, published in early 2015 in the regional version of the DailyNation, The East African. The newspaper was immediately banned from publication in Tanzania and the cartoonist asked to take a long leave.
“But really, what’s the point? »
In neighboring countries, his drawings continue to cause annoyance. Because Godfrey Mwampembwa still willingly attacks their leaders, mocking their authoritarianism or their greed. Thus Yoweri Museveni, the irremovable Ugandan president and one of his favorite victims, finds himself wearing horns symbolizing his love of cows and his brutality. His son and prospective successor, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is decked out in a diaper over his uniform, as a nod to his nickname of “despot baby”.
Despite the difficulties inherent in the job, Gado is delighted to see that“a real culture of press cartoons is developing here and throughout the region”. A vitality that can be seen in the exhibition organized these days in Nairobi by the international collective Cartooning for peace and its own association, Buni Media.
Presented until June 19 at the premises of the Alliance française before leaving to travel to various schools and universities in the country, it honors several cartoonists from Kenya, but also from Uganda, Madagascar, Côte d’ Ivoire or Sudan, around the themes of democracy and freedom of expression.
At the inauguration in early May, Godfrey Mwampembwa was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Embassy in Nairobi. An unexpected honor, according to him, “But by the way, do you know what it’s for? »he asks, looking ingenuous behind his big glasses. A priorinothing that can upset the rhythm of this pencil bulimic who, two months before the presidential election, constantly seeks inspiration everywhere: in the press, on the radio, by questioning taxi drivers, “who know how to give the temperature of the country like no other”. When he was decorated, he says, “I was called to ask me what it felt like to be a knight. I replied that I was very happy and that now I had above all, like every day, a drawing to finish ».