|A recent cartoon by Gado about freedom of expression in Kenya.|
One of Africa’s most famous cartoonists has been sacked by Kenya’s biggest media group as fears grow that the country’s press is caving in to government suppression of free speech.
Godfrey Mwampembwa, better known by his pen name, Gado, had mocked countless presidents — and won legions of fans — during his career at the Daily Nation, which started in 1992. Colleagues have called him “Africa’s most important cartoonist,” but his drawings earned him powerful enemies as well.
In 2009 President Kenyatta, then the finance minister, tried to sue Gado over a cartoon pillorying him for a $100 million accounting error. In 2005 Gado outraged Muslims with a drawing of a woman suicide bomber asking: “I’m also going to get the 72 virgins... right?!”.
Gado was persuaded by his bosses to take a sabbatical last year after the Nation’s sister paper, The East African, was banned in Tanzania over a cartoon mocking President Kikwete. When he tried to return to work, Tom Mshindi, the editor-in-chief, said his contract would not be renewed.
Mr Mshindi denied that the decision was a reflection on the freedom of the press, which he said was “no better or no worse” than under Kenya’s previous government.
Gado said Mr Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, had often put pressure on the paper’s management. “Freedom of the press is being rolled back and it’s dangerous,” he said. The Nation’s managing editor, Denis Galava, was sacked in January for an editorial attacking the government’s “almost criminal negligence”
Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro), a South African cartoonist, said he feared the Nation’s owners were “kowtowing to pressure from the government”. He said: “Gado is the most important cartoonist in Africa. It’s appalling that after 23 years he has been shafted like that.”
reaction to Gado’s firing here.