Two of Kenya’s finest cartoonists were honoured last Friday night when the French Ministry of Culture awarded them for immense contributions to the art of satire and freedom of expression.
Attending the opening of the exhibition on ‘Cartooning for Peace and Democracy’, both Godfrey Mwampembwa aka Gado and Paul Kelemba aka Maddo was taken by surprise at Alliance Française when the French Ambassador to Kenya, Alice Kuster-Merager bestowed on them the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knighthood in the Order of Arts and Letters).
“I was surprised and thrilled with the recognition,” said Maddo who comes out every Saturday in the Kenya press with a full page of satiric visual commentary on local politics and headline news.
“We don’t tell ourselves we’re so important, but when we’re appreciated by a foreign government, we’re humbled,” he told BDLife.
Gado was also surprised.
“When you get this kind of praise after these many years, you feel humbled and honoured. But we also remember to stay grounded and feel we’re receiving it on behalf of all the Kenyan cartoonists,” he said.
The exhibition they came to see is part of a Euro-African Educational Initiative designed by Buni Media [founded by Gado in 2009] and the International Network of Cartoonists.
Featuring a fabulous array of colourful and controversial political cartoons from all over Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Africa, the exhibition specifically focuses on political cartoons related to democracy and freedom of expression.
From Kenya, there are seven award-winning cartoonists represented, including Celeste, Gaddo, GaMMZ (Eric Ngamau), Ozone, Stano, and Victor Ndula. Other African cartoonists represented were from Burkina Faso, DRC, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia, and Uganda.
And out of the almost 60 international artists whose provocative political cartoons are on display, all address the challenges faced by the media in light of a world that seems bent on restricting democracy and freedom of expression.
The exhibition and broader civil education programme that is running concurrently with it came into being in light of the World Press Day on May 3 and concern for the upcoming elections in Kenya in August.
The civic education programme designed expressly to address young people, many students, is ongoing till the end of the show on May 29.
“We hope to extend that programme with support from our sponsors,” said Gado during a Saturday panel on the debatable topic, ‘Democracy is an arse’. Those supporters include the EU, UNESCO, French, Sudan, and Swiss embassies, the Italian Institute of Culture, Alliance Francaise, and several others.
The programme itself consists of a series of workshops, panels, and masterclasses on political cartooning geared especially to university and secondary school students. The first masterclasses were held at Daystar University and the University of Nairobi.
Among the topics addressed were facts, fake news, opinions, the role of cartooning and journalism in democracy, and the concern for freedom of expression.
During the Saturday panel, one of the speakers was Bina Maseno, a 32-year-old aspiring politician who spoke about the harassment she had experienced during her campaigning for a seat in her County Assembly when she was just 23.
“It would seem that gender-based violence during political rallies has been normalised,” said Miss Maseno who noted that women were especially targeted; yet there were no prosecutions against the assailants.
Another important panel that included Maddo, Ozone, Victor Ndula, Dr. Tom Odhiambo, Patrick Gathara and Alaa Satir of Sudan, was on a central theme of political cartooning, namely “Satire as a tool for civic engagement.”
What Buni Media and Cartooning for Peace have also done is create a clear, comprehensive yet simplified educational booklet to be used by teachers and political cartoonists to train students on the art of political “Cartooning for Peace and Democracy as well as the basics of good journalism.
Cartooning for Peace is an international network of editorial cartoonists committed to fighting for democracy and freedom of expression. It was founded by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate together with French cartoonist Plantu aka Jean Plantureux.
“Editorial cartoons are a barometer for freedom of expression,” said Plantu when launching the network in 2006.