Ndarama Assoumani is an editorial cartoonist in Rwanda. Like many other governments around the world, the president and ruling party in Rwanda do not like to be criticized. We talk to Ndarama about his work and the dangers he encounters.
What sort of threats do you face as an editorial cartoonist in Rwanda?
To answer this, we need to look at the history of Rwanda before the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994. The most popular newspaper at that time, Kangura, used satire cartoons to stereotype the (Tutsi) enemies, many of them politicians. Reports and testimonies after the genocide mentioned the cartoons as propaganda tools used to serve the perpetrators of the genocide. I'm apart from the ideology of genocide; I draw on justice and peace. It is a shame that cartoons in Rwanda are still seen in the light of the genocide. Can you imagine if someone asked me "Do you want to restore Kangura?" That would mean creating divisions between people again.
I have received several anonymous calls demanding that I stop drawing or that I remove certain cartoons, especially those that cover security, government, or other topics related to the president. I am afraid of course that something could happen to me.
Are there taboos (subjects you cannot draw about) in Rwanda? And is there outright censorship on some topics?
To write and talk about sex in public was forbidden but now television and radio cover this topic. Of course all topics related to the president are taboo. It is forbidden to write articles or use photos and documents without authorization from the Office of the President. This is an unofficial law, not documented but known by all. This restriction is applicable even to topics related to the security agencies, the police and the army.
What are your favorite subjects to draw about? And do these include ‘dangerous’ topics?
I like the subjects of human rights, security and corruption, all of which are dangerous to some extent. Rwanda is placed quited high in various rankings comparing African countries. This means that relatively safe place, with little corruption. It is not true! Some reports are pure falsehood. I think as an editorial cartoonist it is my job to never give up, even if there are very dangerous topics that need to be addressed.
How is the economic situation in Rwanda; is it possible to make a living as a cartoonist?
There are two newspapers that pay cartoonists; among them is the one that I work for as a cartoonist. I earn a minimum of 200 euros and a maximum of 400 euros per month. My income is laughable; being a cartoonist is not a desirable job here. Cartoon Movement helps me to continue my work, giving me the support of an international community of cartoonists.
Are you positive about the future of editorial cartooning in Rwanda?
Everything is possible; the development must begin with basic skills. There is no initiative in Rwanda to help cartoonists in their skills and activities. Learning fine arts does not mean that you necessarily become an editorial cartoonist, but the government should understand the importance of freedom of expression. At present, many cartoonists shy away from politics. They become illustrators instead, choosing to draw subjects related to leisure and entertainment.