Celebrated cartoonist GADO won’t be featuring in the Nation newspapers’ editorial pages, after all. The Nation Media Group sacked him in November last year, after eight months in the cold in what was termed as a “sabbatical”.
Godfrey Mwapembwa, better known for his cartooning name GADO, was pushed out incongruously even after working for the company for 23 years and sketching some of the best cartoons that came to define the Nation newspaper brand.
“It wasn’t that it happened – rather, how it all happened that I am disappointed in,” GADO said recently in an interview with John-Allan Namu, the former KTN investigative journalist.
GADO says he was called up for a meeting in November last year by NMG Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi to review his case. He had been out of Nation since mid-March 2015, when his cartoons quietly vanished from Nation’s editorial pages, for what was made to look like a one-year study break and was due to ‘return’ in February 2016. His exit confounded Nation readers and colleagues and his explanation of a sabbatical to study film in the United States was taken with a pinch of salt.
“We knew he was gone never to come back,” said a fellow cartoonist. “In Nation when you are asked to take time off, that’s it. Your fate is sealed.”
So when Mwapembwa turned up for the meeting at Nation on that November day, he was a hopeful GADO and refining his mind to start doing what he loves: poking the low and mighty with the tip of his pencil.
Nothing had prepared him for the message he received, however. Mshindi told him the company had terminated his contract. He said to me that “they” had reached a decision,” GADO recalls. Then the confirmation came in form of a letter after some time. “We refer to discussions with the undersigned the issue of your contract with the company. As discussed, the company has opted not to extend your contract after your sabbatical leave expires in February 28th, 2016,” said the letter quoted by John-Allan Namu.
It was signed by Group Human Resources Director, David Kiambi, and the Group Financial Controller, Japhet Mucheke. The sabbatical, it seems, set in motion events that would eventually lead to his exit.
Mshindi has defended the move, arguing that a contract between employer and employee offers either part leeway to terminate it. His trouble is tied to two things. First is the Jubilee top leadership (President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto), who became uncomfortable with GADO’s oft-times gritty humour. And, No, those dangling balls (representing ICC case) on each of the duo’s feet were not welcome satire.
But the back breaker was the cartoon on President Kikwete in The East African that led to the closure of the newspaper in Tanzania on January 21st, 2015. GADO caricatured the then President half nude, eating grapes from the hand of one of seven well-endowed ladies. Each of these women represented seven weaknesses in Jakaya Kikwete’s government.
‘There was no pressure’
After the shutdown of the East African, then Nation CEO proposed to GADO to take some time off. GADO says he requested at least one year to enable him apply and attend New York Film School. The newspaper resumed circulating in Tanzania mid-January 2016, one year later. That cost revenues, running into hundreds of millions, an unforgivable sin at NMG.
Mr Gitahi, who left Nation in June last year, says there was no pressure to push out GADO from the Kikwete Cartoon. “…if you look at the cartoons that GADO has done in his life, and there are many, there are many which were far more controversial. I was there for nine years and I cannot remember ever telling GADO not to draw a cartoon.”
As recent sackings of senior editors Nation have shown, it is business first and media freedom second for the region’s biggest media house. Denis Galava, who was special projects editor, was fired recently for writing a strong editorial that the management said had put its commercial interests at risk.
The newspaper received flak for which it’s currently running a campaign to clean its image of the perception that it is was muzzling itself to appease the lords of advertising. GADO’s exit adds credence to this trend and it will take Nation hard and long work to shake it off.
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