How editorial cartoonists in Africa shape conversations

They make us laugh, but more than that, they make us think. Editorial cartoonists around the continent challenge ideas and are faced with a variety of hurdles themselves. We speak to three artists about their work and how it has changed during the pandemic

Elna Schutz
Nov 9 · 7 min read
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Cartoons of Damien Glez and a depiction of the coronavirus.

is a French-Burkinabe freelance cartoonist, editor, lyricist and screenwriter, who is published in the French Rolling Stone, Jeune Afrique and more. Previously he was the editor of the satirical weekly magazine, Le Journal du Jeudi for twenty-five years.

What do you see as your role and unique contribution to your country’s media landscape?

The particularity of Burkina Faso is that the caricature is still in its teens. When we created Le Journal du Jeudi, at the beginning of the 90’s, it was a pioneering work and the public was not jaded like in Europe or the United States where they know the press cartoons since almost two centuries.

In the history of Burkina Faso, which led to the overthrow of the Blaise Compaoré regime in 2014, we have participated in the political relaxation, in the fight against the cult of personality or quite simply in the improvement of freedom of expression. This work was unique in that it had not been done before, in this drawn form.

How has your work evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic?

The main influence of the pandemic on my work has been the temporary cessation of certain publications in print. I compensated by producing spontaneous content on the internet. The cartoonist’s profession being quite lonely, my way of working has not changed. But, of course, health dominated the news for a few weeks.

What do you believe the unique experience of editorial cartoonists is in the African context? How can the media landscape foster this more?

In reality, there are a lot of different Africas. And the situation of press cartoonists may be different from one country to another. In countries such as Niger or Burkina Faso, cartoonists are strangled by economic conditions and poor wages in particular due to the narrow market of the written press.

In other areas that are much more economically developed, designers are sometimes confronted with other problems such as the autocratic character of certain political regimes. We must develop education in the sense of a critical look at the world, to encourage the public to read the press. We must also show solidarity with those who do not enjoy freedom of expression so that their situation improves.

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Tayo Fatunla and one of his cartoons.

is a cartoonist originally from Nigeria. He has been the resident cartoonist for magazine and drew for the New Africa magazine. He studied at the Kubert School in New Jersey and has travelled around the world attending cartoon festivals and comic conventions.

What do you see as your role and unique contribution to your country’s media landscape?

For years, I drew for editorial cartoons for various Nigerian newspapers and magazines commenting on social, political, and economic issues in Nigeria and continued to do same in West Africa magazine internationally highlighting news stories that hardly would have been heard of or taken notice of.

My work has evolved through the years as I combine editorial cartoons with educational cartoons and illustrations. Lately, I have been drawing for The Nation newspaper in Lagos Nigeria charting 60 years since Nigeria’s independence.

How has your work evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic?

There has been an unexpected upside to cartooning during the pandemic. This is because more work is virtual, so its reach is global. Before Covid-19, I would usually travel to cartoon festivals internationally and do my ever-popular cartoon workshop sessions. I was invited to four different countries this year alone, but all these trips were cancelled due to the pandemic. This alone made me rethink the way forward.

I have had positive gains during the pandemic as many people have resorted to spending more time online during the lockdown. So, many more people have discovered what I do. With this came my participation in the online Afropolitan Comics exhibition initiated by the French Institute of South Africa as part of the Virtual National Arts Festival.

What do you believe the unique experience of editorial cartoonists is in the African context? How can the media landscape foster this more?

The Afropolitan Comics project raised the bar with the digital concept of a virtual exhibition during the pandemic. The French Institute of South Africa gathered works of 16 artists from Africa. It was organised around three themes, namely ‘autobiography’, ‘heroes and history’, and ‘folklore and future’. It featured works of myself from Nigeria and other major established comic artists from around the continent including from South Africa. I also did two online cartoon workshop sessions for aspiring African cartoonists and comic artists.

Then the Cartoonists Association of Nigeria virtual exhibition of Nigerian cartoonists in which I participated, was themed ‘drawing the line for free speech in Nigeria — a reflection on Nigeria at 60’. Here lies the answer to the media landscape whereby cartoons can be fostered digitally to reach a wider readership whilst still making the print press available to those without access to wider technology. This digital exposure has opened more doors to cartoonists and comic artists. This decade is likely to embrace more of digital media cartoons and comics online a rapid response to working around the pandemic.

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Willy Mouele and one of his cartoons.

, who goes by the artist name Willy Zekid, works with Cartooning for Peace in France. He conducts workshops to raise awareness of democratic culture, for instance in schools and prisons. He lives in the Ivory Coast for part of the year. Mouele’s answers have been translated from French.

How has your work evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic? Please feel free to speak to particular challenges and opportunities.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, my work didn’t change much because I work a lot using the internet. The most striking thing is that we quickly decided to set up awareness campaigns through the press and social networks, in order to put an end to the rumours circulating about the disease first and then to inform the population about the pandemic. This allowed us to show that editorial cartoonists can also help in the effort to raise awareness of health authorities in the event of a crisis.

Is there a particular piece of your work that stands out to you over the last few months as particularly significant or impactful?

We did some work with Cartooning For Peace, the European Union and an association of designers based in Ivory Coast called Tâche d’encre. We have produced a series of workshops and I was the educational manager of this project. It seemed very satisfying and necessary because the topic “’let’s draw democracy for peaceful elections’ is quite special for Ivory Coast. There have been many conflicts there in every election since 1999.

Helping young people to understand how they could take part in the democratic debate was interesting. Our campaign also took place on social media and we were able to reach more young people, despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic. The various media outlets in the country have also taken up the awareness campaign in the form of posters on their pages.

What do you believe the unique experience of editorial cartoonists is in the African context? How can the media landscape foster this more?

Firstly, I would point out that there are several peculiarities from one country to another. Cartoonists do not practice in the same way in Congo Brazzaville or Ivory Coast, for example, and the structures and the social and political environment are very different. The freedom to express ourselves differs from country to country. But, in general, it is still an exciting job that allows people to take a different look at current events. There are still many people who are illiterate in some African countries and the advantage of editorial cartooning is that it allows them to form an opinion on a topical topic without necessarily having to read the press article.

Want to stay up to date with the latest journalism and media innovation news from the African continent? .

Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab

jamlab

Strengthening innovation in African independent journalism and media.

Elna Schutz

Written by

jamlab

jamlab

The Jamlab Africa Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.

Elna Schutz

Written by

jamlab

jamlab

The Jamlab Africa Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.

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