News / Africa

    Famed African Satirist Raises Alarm Over Kenyan Journalist Sackings

    FILE - 'XYZ Show' creator Godfrey 'Gado' Mwampembwa (r) prepares the puppets for the show at his studio in Nairobi, Kenya, 21 May 2009.
    FILE - 'XYZ Show' creator Godfrey 'Gado' Mwampembwa (r) prepares the puppets for the show at his studio in Nairobi, Kenya, 21 May 2009.

    One of Africa's best known satirists blames government pressure for journalist sackings at Kenya's biggest newspaper group which threaten to reverse decades of hard-won press freedoms.

    In a continent where journalists are often jailed, the Daily Nation's decision to end the contract of cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa after 23 years has made Kenya's journalists wary that their prized media freedom is at risk.

    Mwampembwa's black and white sketches, published under the pen name Gado, have won a following around Africa for depicting politicians as greedy and corrupt hyenas, vultures and pigs.

    "Cartoons are a barometer of press freedom in any country," said Mwampembwa, a Tanzanian cartoonist who has lived in Kenya for years.

    "When that is under attack, you know you are in trouble," Mwampembwa, who is 46, told Reuters in his office in downtown Nairobi this week.

    Any sign of pressure on the press before the 2017 elections will cause unease in Kenya, where politicians have been blamed for stoking ethnic tensions in the past. Deadly ethnic violence erupted after the 2007 polls, prompting a new constitution that protects media freedoms and outlaws hate speech.

    Mwampembwa said his removal, and the sacking of several other journalists, showed the Daily Nation and its parent company Nation Media Group had "crumbled" under pressure from President Uhuru Kenyatta's government after his relentless needling of officials.

    "This is a situation where an organization is capitulating to political and corporate pressure," he said. "The gains that were made are being rolled back, especially now that we are going into elections."

    Nation Media Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi denied this, saying Gado's contract had reached a "natural end" and the government had never asked for a journalist to be fired.

    "We will never bow or succumb to pressure from government or any other quarter," Mshindi said in a statement.

    Presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu called the allegations "absolute rubbish". He said: "Even when we feel criticism is severely unjustified, we don't think it is in our place to gag anyone."

    "Arm Twisting"

    Before he became president in 2013, Kenyatta sued the Nation Media Group over one of Mwampembwa's sketches.

    The group sacked senior editor Denis Galava in January after he wrote an editorial criticizing Kenyatta for poor performance.

    Since then, it has also fired the Sunday Nation's investigations editor and the Sunday Nation news editor. Galava has launched a lawsuit challenging his sacking. Others say they plan to.

    Mwampembwa said the government used its big advertising budget, spent via a centralised body that purchases space, to influence Kenyan papers battling falling circulation.

    "This one body is used to arm-twist newspapers," said the cartoonist, who is suing NMG for wrongful contract termination.

    Mwampembwa has faced criticism beyond Kenya's borders. Last year he took a sabbatical from work after Tanzania's government banned one of the group's titles that had published a cartoon by Mwampembwa that lampooned then President Jakaya Kikwete.

    The weekly East African apologized for the drawing depicting Kikwete being fed grapes by one of seven scantily-clad women, each representing what Mwampembwa saw as weaknesses in the Tanzania's government, such as corruption and cronyism.

    Although the group agreed to his sabbatical, Mwampembwa said he was told his contract was at an end when he tried to return.

    On his travels to countries such as Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, where journalists face regular censure, Mwampembwa said he found that aspiring reporters and satirists look up to Kenya's media.

    He has been feted for co-founding XYZ, a popular satirical TV puppet show.

    "They admire that in Kenya you have this kind of leeway to lampoon presidents," he said.

    Losing that would resonate across Africa. "That's the worry."

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora