FRANCE has been left reeling, and some parts of the work shocked, by the recent attacks on the French weekly satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. This is the second time the magazine was attacked, the first was in 2011, and is a reminder of the challenges media freedom still faces everywhere and of how much cartoon commentary has become mainstream in the 21st century.
The freedom of information in the majority of African countries has always hung by a string. Those reporting the news are at risk from not just the state and those who seek to control the news, but also from the continent’s increasingly powerful protagonists, especially terrorist groups (as has been painfully witnessed in Somalia).
Along with journalists are the cartoonists who, ironically, push the boundaries more than anyone else in this tricky environment. Perhaps an indication of how big the risk is - plus the distance needed to do a good cartoon - is the high number of African migrant cartoonists. A case in point is Kenya, where at least five of the top cartoonists of the last 30 years are not Kenyan; Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado) and Philip Ndunguru hailed from Tanzania; the late Frank Odoi was from Ghana; and James Tumusiime and J. Kityo are from Uganda.
Whether you agree with them or not, Africa’s satirical cartoonists have the courage and wit to take on the mightiest of individuals and institutions and have, so far, survived. Here are some of Africa’s greatest:
Jonathan Shapiro, born 1958 in Cape Town, is a South African cartoonist, known popularly as “Zapiro”, whose work appears in numerous South African publications. Resulting from hard-hitting cartoons about President Jacob Zuma, he has twice been sued by Zuma for defamation. Both cases were dropped. In 2001 he became the first cartoonist to win a category prize in the CNN African Journalist of the Year Awards and he is widely considered to be South Africa’s most popular and leading cartoonist.
Cartoon title: “From the Front or from the Back?” The biggest enemy of so-called democracy is the political show.
“Z”, a Tunisian political cartoonist, conceals his identity from all but a few friends. Born in Tunisia, he says he is an architect by day and a cyberactivist by night, having become famous through his blog debatunisie.com. Having criticised the Ben Ali regime he now questions the direction of the revolution, which he feels has been hijacked by conservatism and bigotry. In 2009, blogger Fatma Riahi was arrested by the Tunisian authorities, accused of being Z.
Popa Matumula is a Tanzanian cartoonist, comic artist, illustrator and designer. His work has been featured in local and international publications.
Doaa El Adl
Considered by many to be Egypt’s most famous female cartoonist, Doaa El Adl has been making Egyptian headlines with her cartoons, such as the one above. Doaa is aware of the risks she takes; legally a cartoonist may be exposed on charges of insulting the President or blasphemy. This was once used against her when she drew a caricature that criticised politicians taking advantage of religion and using it to dominate and influence simple people. She currently works at the prominent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
Cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa is a Tanzanian better known by his pen name - Gado. He is the most syndicated political cartoonist in East and Central Africa. His cartoons on every subject from terrorism and deforestation to AIDS and corruption have always stirred debate for their provoking nature. Gado is a 2007 Prince Claus Laureate. He is also a winner of Kenya National Human Rights Commission Award in Journalism in 2005 and 2007.
Award-winning Tayo Fatunla is a Nigerian cartoonist and illustrator who has held workshops and has had his work exhibited all over the world. He is also the creator of the educational cartoon strip feature on Black History, “Our Roots”.