Kenya-based cartoonist Godfrey Mwapembwa, popularly known as Gado, was fired from his job at Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation.
Last year, Gado agreed to take a sabbatical after publishing a cartoon caricaturing then-Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. The cartoon portrayed the president being fed grapes by seven women, each representing one of the seven sins being committed by the Tanzanian government.
Gado planned to continue his work after his sabbatical ended on February 28, 2016. However, last month he was given a letter stating that his contract will not be renewed and was subsequently terminated from his position.
“As discussed, the company has opted not to extend your contract after your sabbatical leave expires on February 28th, 2016,” the letter read.
While The Daily Nation insists that their parting with Gado was amicable, the cartoonist believes he was sacked for political reasons.
Gado had been drawing political cartoons for 23 years, and stated that despite getting complaints from public officials, his employers supported him.
However, he began to face harsh criticism for his works when President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto came to power in 2013. He regularly portrayed the two statesmen with balls and chains attached to their ankles, a practice which his editors advised him to discontinue.
Gado agreed to stop putting balls and chains in his cartoons with Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto, but continued to satirize them in his comics. One particularly controversial cartoon showed the deputy president wearing a Sikh turban. Gado recalled that he received a phone call from one of the Mr. Ruto’s staff members after the cartoon was published.
While there is no single cartoon that led to Gado’s dismissal, the cartoonist believes the current administration has been angry with his work. According to the Kenya Union of Journalists, of which Gado is a member, Gado is not the first journalist critical of the government who has been sacked recently.
“In a span of two months, at least four senior editors have been kicked out of newsrooms on the grounds of redundancy and flimsy grounds to please those who pay the piper,” a KUJ statement said last month.
Gado announced that he plans to sue The Daily Nation for unlawfully terminating his contract, and despite his dismissal, he will continue to draw cartoons and distribute them independently.
“I have freedom of choice, I will always find a way. Some subjects are tough; you struggle with them but in the end you always find a way to draw and add humor.”