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Cartooning in Rwanda

Ndarama_assoumani_2Ndarama 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.

President Paul Kagame celebrates his 59th birthday on Ocober 23, 2016.

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.

African Union launches one passport for Africa.

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.

Malaysian Cartoonist Zunar Banned from Traveling

We have reported about Malaysian cartoonist Zunar on numerous occasions. Zunar’s cartoons are very critical of the Malaysian government, much to the dismay of government officias. He currently faces nine charges under the Sedition Act with the possibility of 43 years in jail. Today, he was also banned from traveling. Read his statement here:
ImmigrationI was barred from leaving Malaysia.
Today (17 Oct 2016 at 2pm), inbound to Singapore for a forum, I was stopped by the immigration officer at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
I was told by the officer that the instruction came from the police for them to stop me from traveling.
Upon checking further, another immigration officer who wanted to remain anonymous had confirmed that the instruction came directly from the Inspector General Of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar himself, taking effect on 24th June 2016. 
The IGP and The Director of Immigration have no right to stop or control my movement and barring me from leaving the country. Only the court does, and even then can only be carried out under specific laws.
Even though I am facing nine charges under the Sedition Act, I am still not convicted since my case shall only start on the 22nd of November this year. This clearly shows gross abuse of power and blatant violation of human rights by these individuals. 
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the Article 12 clearly states that everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own. The declaration outlines further that the above-mentioned rights shall not be subjected to any restrictions, except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.
This is yet another form of long list harassment to stop me from drawing cartoons to criticize the government of Malaysia. 
Last year the government slapped me with nine charges under Sedition Act with possibility of 43 years jail punishment if found guilty over the comments in my tweet. Before that, I was locked behind bars twice - first was on 24th September 2010 for two days and then on 10th of February 2015 for three days. Five of my cartoon books are banned and my office in Kuala Lumpur was raided a few times with thousands of my cartoon books confiscated. 
The printers and bookstores around the country which carry my cartoon works have also been raided and warned not to print or sell my books in the future or their whole business licence will be revoked.. October 2014, three of my assistants were arrested for selling my cartoon books. The webmaster, who managed his website and online bookstore, was called in by the police for interrogation.
I will file a legal challenge to remove the ban. Talent is not a gift, talent is a responsibility.
They can ban my books, they can ban my cartoon, they can ban me from traveling, but they cannot ban my mind, I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink.

Cartoons Going Viral

If you’re reading this blog, we probably do not need to tell you that cartoons are powerful. We’re proud of the cartoons we publish every day, and it’s great to see some of them really have an impact.

1636-160815 Syria (Gargalo)_small


1669-161010 Haiti (Elchicotriste)_small

Recently, two of the cartoons we have published went truly viral: Allepo(nica) by Vasco Gargalo and Nobody is Haiti by Elchicotriste. Both have been published widely, being featured by Al Jazeera, Human Rights Watch and the Guardian (to name just a few). Both cartoons have reached an audience of millions.

A Cartoon for Europe

This weekend, the winners of Una Vignetta per L’Europa 2016 were announced in Ferrara, Italy. The concourse is organized by the European Commission in Italy in cooperation with Internazionale and VoxEurop, and awards the best political cartoons about Europe that have been published in Italian media. All the 50 finalists can be seen here.

The prize ceremony takes place during Internazionale in Ferrara, a festival that features over 240 journalists from all over the world.



This year's result is particularly noteworthy (for us), because all the awarded cartoonists are  also members of Cartoon Movement:

First prize was won by Niels Bo Bojesen from Denmark, with a cartoon about Brexit.


Second prize was awarded to Marco De Angelis.

De Angelis

Third prize was given to Tjeerd Royaards, with a cartoon that was made the day ofter the Brussels attack in March 2016.


A special prize was given to Fabio Magnasciutti. (Translantion: OK, who expressed this desire?)


A cartoon by Giuseppe La Micela received the prize awarded by the public.