comic art by Gado (Godfrey Mwampembwa)

Godfey Mwampembwa, who uses the pseudonym Gado, is a Tanzanian political cartoonist. Since the 1990s he is the most syndicated cartoonist in Central and East Africa. His work is also published outside his house continent, namely in France, Austria, Japan, the UK and the United States. Gado's cartoons have often been subject of official complaints, threats and court cases, even resulting in him being fired from one of his newspapers. At the same time he has also received several international awards for his often controversial work. The man is furthermore the brain behind the Kenyan satirical puppet show 'The XYZ Show' (2009), which lampoons politicians in the style of 'Spitting Image'. While not a comic artist in the strictest sense, Gado does occasional make use of narrative sequences and has a recurring character named Wanjiku, a common African wife who acts as the voice of reason in political affairs. 

Cartoon by Gado showing the Ethiopean prime minister reacting to a question on the number of journalists jailed in Ethiopia (2014)
Cartoon by Gado showing the Ethiopean prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn reacting to a question on the number of journalists jailed in Ethiopia (2014).

Early life
Godfrey Mwampembwa was born in 1969 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. His mother was a school teacher who encouraged him to draw. From a young age Gado followed news reports about politics, including on BBC radio. He made cartooning his profession at age 15, earning extra money by freelancing for local newspapers and magazines like the Daily News, The Business Times, New African Magazine and The Express in Dar Es Salaam. After completing high school, he joined the army for a year. In 1991 he studied architecture at the Ardhi Institute. A year later Gado won second prize in a drawing contest in Nairobi, Kenya. As he travelled to the capital to pick up his prize he decided to drop out of college and stay in the city.

Cartooning career
In 1992 he became house cartoonist for the Daily Nation, a newspaper based in Nairobi, Kenya, which nevertheless has a readership all over East and Central Africa. By not being a native Kenyan, Gado brought a fresh foreigner's perspective on Kenya's news events. Soon his cartoons were published in The East-African Standard (Kenya), The Guardian, The New African (U.K.), Le Monde, Le Courrier International (France), Deutsche Welle (Germany), Des Standard (Austria), The Sunday Tribune (South Africa), The Washington Times (USA), and the Japan Times (Japan).

Cartoon starring Wanjiku by Gado
Cartoon starring Wanjiku.

A recurring character in Gado's cartoons is Wanjiku. Her name references a comment by Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi that Wanjiku "doesn't know anything about the constitution". Moi used her as a metaphor for lower-class people who are so ignorant that it is best for the government to make decisions for them. Gado decided to create a character representing the common African woman and named her Wanjiku. She often appears in cartoons commenting on certain issues. Yet personality-wise she is the complete opposite of what Moi intended. Gado made her a smart, funny, articulate and self-conscious woman. She always has some sarcastic or otherwise dry reply to comments from politicians, religious leaders, activists or generals.

Wanjiku by Gado

Style and beliefs
As a cartoonist Gado is notorious for his sharp satirical commentary. He doesn't avoid talking about taboo subjects and is a strong defender of the freedom of speech. Politically Gado is a firm believer in the Pan-African idea of uniting all African countries as one country. He admires statesmen like Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela. He has often received death threats and was frequently taken to court over his work. In 2002, on the occasion of President Moi leaving office, Gado drew a cartoon depicting a mug shot of the politician. Underneath the drawing he wrote: "You need more than an inauguration to let people know that he is no longer president!"

The infamous Hustler's Jet cartoon by Gado

Controversy and censorship
In 2009 the Kenyan government had spent extraordinarily high amounts of money, yet denied it by claiming it was "just a computer error." Gado thereupon drew Kenyan Minister of Finance Uhuru Kenyatta as an idiot unable to count, which promptly led to Kenyatta filing a legal suit. In 2013 the threat became more outspoken when Kenyatta was elected President. This didn't stop Gado from drawing him with balls and chains around his feet, referencing his corruption scandals. Gado's editors asked him to stop drawing Kenyatta this way, but he staunchly refused. A cartoon depicting Vice-President William Ruto receiving a massage in a "hustler's jet" also sparked outrage. It referenced Ruto's self-invented nickname "the hustler" and the fact that he had spent 100 million shillings on private jet trips while his government tried to cut back on spending. The cartoon became so well known that a committee report on Ruto's spending was actually named the "Hustler Jet" report.

Funny enough, Gado and the President are practically neighbours. When Gado had to move into a flat he deliberately picked one near the official presidential residence. Not just to be close to one of his frequent targets, but also because it gives him a more secure feeling. The President is better protected than anyone in the country and in terms of electricity the area suffers from less power cuts than in other parts of Nairobi. Still, when Kenyatta became President in 2013 his administration was far less tolerant to criticism, compared with his predecessors. In 2016 Gado was fired from the Daily Nation after 23 years of loyal service. The official reason was a cartoon ridiculing Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. He depicted the politician as a Roman emperor being fed and admired by women who have the phrases "incompetence", "cronyism" and "corruption" written over their bodies. Seeing that Gado had drawn far more offensive cartoons before he knew that Kenyatta probably pressured the newspaper to fire him. The artist decided to take a sabbatical and afterwards joined Germany's International Media Company -Deutsche Welle (DW) - Swahili.

The cartoon that got Gado fired from the Daily Nation in 2016
The cartoon that got Gado fired from the Daily Nation in 2016.

The XYZ Show
In 1996-1997 Gado took a course in animation at Fabrica, a Communication Research Center in Treviso. In 2000 he also followed animation and film making at the Vancouver Film School in Canada. These studies came in handy when he ventured into television. Since 2009 Gado is the creative spirit behind the satirical puppet show 'The XYZ Show' (2009- ), where famous politicians are lampooned through the use of puppet caricatures. The idea was pioneered by Peter Fluck and Roger Law's British puppet show 'Spitting Image' (1984-1996), but Gado was actually inspired by the French spin-off version 'Les Guignols de l'Info' (1988- ). During a visit to France in 2003 he even visited the show's set. Gado wanted to create his own Kenyan version and collaborated both with the makers of 'Les Guignols de l'Info' as the Kenian sculptor Gerald Olewe to push his vision through.

It took a full six years before the 'XYZ Show' actually got on the air, but it was an instant success with viewers. In 2013 it won the award for "Best TV Series" at the Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards in Nigeria. And like one ought to expect from a satirical show some politicians actually took offense. Minister of Public Services Dalmas Otieno complained about a sketch in which Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki had his nose twisted. Aides of Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka felt offended by the fact that he was depicted "giggling like a schoolgirl" and actually questioned if the show was politically motivated? In a way Gado was lucky. A decade earlier, during the dictatorial regime, his show would never been aired. To bring the point home Gado's good friend and fellow cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) tried to create a similar puppet show, but was instantly rejected after TV executives saw the pilot.

Gado and a puppet from the XYZ Show
The creators of the XYZ Show Godfrey Mwampembwa and Marie Mungai with one of the puppets.

Gado has often won awards for his work. By 1999 he was already named "Kenyan Cartoonist of the Year". In 2006 he joined the Cartooning for Peace initiative of the United Nations. A year later he received the Prince Claus Award in the category "Culture and Conflict". In 2011 Ford Foundation gave him a Visionaries Award for his innovative efforts in the field of key social issues. In 2014 the newspaper NewAfrican named Gado one of the 100 most influential people in Africa. In 2016 he and the Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ul-Haque (Zunar) both received the prestigious International Editorial Cartoons Prize. The awards were given to them in Geneva by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Cartoon by Gado
Cartoon depicting US President Donald Trump with British PM Theresa May (2017). It refers to Trump's off-camera remark that he "just grabs women by the pussy if he wants them."

Gado's cartoons have been collected in four books so far: 'Abunuwasi' (1996), 'Demo-Crazy' (2000), 'The End of An Error' (2006) and 'Crisis...? What Crisis?!' (2012). The latter had a foreword by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. 

He is co-founder and executive chairman of Buni Media, an independent multi-media company. He is furthermore a member of Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ), the Association of East African cartoonists (KATUNI), Cartoonists and Writers Syndicate (C&W) and a Board Member of Cartoonist Rights Network (CRN). Since 2006 Gado has his own blog.

An African Guide to Dictators

Series and books by Gado in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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