‘It is unfortunate that The Nation [newspaper] is succumbing to corporate and political pressure. The manner in which I was sacked is unacceptable. But it’s not just Gado; this should not happen to any journalist. Political pressures in newsrooms are always there, but it’s how they are handled that matters.’ — Gado
Journalist John-Allan Namu broke the news on March 9th that world-renowned cartoonist Gado had been fired by the Kenya-based Nation Media Group newspaper syndicate. Below is some of the international reaction to Gado’s firing.
CRNI executive director, Dr. Robert “Bro” Russell
It was almost 20 years ago that I first met Gado, while I was working on a international development project in Kenya. I recall telling my secretary that I was going to be out of the office for an hour having lunch with Gado. Her jaw dropped and she quietly said, “You know, he says the things that we’re all thinking but are afraid to say.” She acted as if I was going to have lunch with Michael Jackson. I then realized that in many developing and emerging democracies, cartoonists are treated like rock stars. They had incredible influence way beyond their paygrade.
In fact I eventually came to understand that a good political cartoonist in an emergent democracy is probably the most cost-efficient change agent in the society. The right cartoonist, in the right place, at the right time, with the right cartoon, could bring down a government. It doesn’t happen often but it comes close more times than a person might think.
Other individuals in the society have much more power, more clout, even the head of state has an army. But who can have that much influence over societies’ political views than someone who’s paid five dollars for his cartoon that day.
Gado has been in the crosshairs of a number of different governments in Kenya, not just because of the power of his cartoons, but because he plows the way for other cartoonist to be daring as well. Now it looks like his newspaper, the Nation, is finally caving in to that long-standing political pressure.
It’s entirely the right of a newspaper to sack a cartoonist or any other journalist who fails to follow the general political policy of that newspaper. But that not what’s happening here. The government of Kenya is finally succeeding in sending a signal that it’s in charge of the media, it wants to regulate what people read and how they think, and perhaps the days of the enlightened Free Press in Kenya are now beginning to come to an end.
Every journalist, every reader, no matter what their political persuasion, must take this action as a warning.
Cartoonist Rights Network International stands with Gado. We call on the publishers and acting editor of the Nation to reinstate Gado and play the role that they should play in society. The newspapers, publishers and editors should be the front line of the defense of free speech in the country, not the individual journalist.
While in this case the cartoonist is the practitioner of free speech, the publishers and the editors are the defenders of free speech. Perhaps the Nation’s readers can boycott the paper and thus send a message upstream that Gado is one rockstar who shouldn’t be messed with.
Khainga O’Okwemba, President of PEN Kenya Centre
The gains made in democracy and the critical role the Kenyan media has played are being eroded by the systematic attack on media practitioners, especially journalists. The news of the sacking of the celebrated cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado) is shocking; this coming hot on the heels of another high profile sacking of editor Denis Galava. It seems this is calculated to weaken the media ahead of the general elections next year: the stakes are just too high and independent and critical voices are a species the government would love to get rid of.
“The Committee and members of the PCO (Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation, UK) are very unhappy to learn of this development. Gado is a world-class cartoonist, able to shine light on the darkest and most difficult situations that arise – and to do so with humour. The world needs to see more of Gado not less.”
“The Australian Cartoonists Association is surprised to hear that Kenya has started on a course to rival Mugabe’s Zimbabwe by sacking cartoonist Gabo. Freedom of speech is not only a human right, it also defines the maturity of a nation. Australia enjoys a proud tradition of political cartoonists and Kenyatta may be surprised that Australia hasn’t imploded as a result. So too can Kenya benefit from a free press and political cartoonists. The ACA calls on the Kenyan government to do a better job at governing for the people rather than be offended by the truth.”
Peter Nieuwendijk, Secretary General FECO
“It’s very sad that my dear friend Gado (Godfrey Mwampembwa) cannot continue his work. His outstanding humour on tv and in cartoons was/is an important voice of progressive black Africa. I met him twice (in Jerusalem and Amsterdam). Last year I proposed him as a member of the jury at the Aydin Dogan Cartoon contest in Istanbul. Hoping that he can continue his great work and giving him back the free voice that he needs, (that we all need) I support any action to help Gado.”
South African Cartoonist Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro)
“I am utterly shocked to hear that Gado has been fired and will no longer be seen in the Daily Nation . . . The scope and impact of his cartoons, particularly about East Africa but also more broadly about the continent as a whole, make him arguably the most important cartoonist in Africa. It is clear that what has happened to Gado reflects the deterioration of freedom of expression in Kenya and that the editor of the Daily Nation has caved in to political pressure from the country’s rulers.”
“The dismissal of Kenyan cartoonist Gado from the Daily Nation, where he worked since 1992, is incomprehensible and indefensible. Gado is one of Africa’s most important cartoonists and therefore an asset of tremendous value to any media outlet that takes critical journalism seriously. The only explanation for his sacking seems to be political pressure from the outside. That such pressure has succeeded in ousting one of Kenya most prominent critical voices from the Daily Nation does not bode well for the future of free and independent journalism in Kenya.”
“It seems clear from the sequence of events that the termination of Gado’s contract with the Daily Nation has more to do with his unsparing political commentary through his cartoons, and as such, is intended to undermine his right to express his views freely, than for any other reason. This is distressing and wrong; it undermines Kenya’s own tradition of satire. This does not bode well for Kenyan democracy and is another indicator of rising intolerance against political criticism by governments in many parts of the world.” Complete PEN International statement in support of Gado here.