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Gado: Drawing political fire

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The power of satire
  • Godfrey Mwampembwa, better known as Gado, is Kenya's best-known cartoonist
  • Has been penning his politically charged cartoons in The Nation since 1992
  • Was the creative force behind Kenya's new satirical puppet show, "The XYZ Show"

(CNN) -- Lampooning politicians in Kenya's The Nation newspaper has been cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa's job since 1992, but it was his vocation long before that.

Better known by his pen name Gado, Mwampembwa started drawing as a teenager and soon found that blending satire with his drawings could lead to a career.

Freelance jobs at newspapers and magazines in Tanzania and Kenya followed for Dar es Salaam's Daily News, Business Times and The Express.

Since 1992, Gado has worked as an editorial cartoonist and illustrator for the Kenyan-based Daily Nation, the largest newspaper in East and Central Africa.

Video: Provoke, irritate and entertain

But now the cartoonist has taken his 2D black-and-white satirizing from the page to the screen. Mwampembwa was the brains behind "The XYZ Show," Kenya's first satirical puppet TV show that aired earlier this year.

"The XYZ Show" is based on the hugely popular "Spitting Image" show that aired in the UK from 1984 to 1996, and France's popular "Les Guignols," featuring latex caricature puppets of politicians and celebrities.

"The XYZ Show" had been in the pipeline since 2002, but Mwampembwa found it a tough sell to broadcasters in areas where more Western-style satire had not been seen before. There was also the issue of keeping editorial control over the project.

Video: Cartoons in crisis

"We said, 'We would control the content, because we know where we want to take this. We want it to be independent. We want it to be fair. We want it to be hard-hitting,'" Mwampembwa told Variety magazine.

In the end, financial support from the Ford Foundation arrived to breathe life into the project and its latex puppets. While entertaining, the show is also making people think about and discuss the issues that made Mwampembwa pick up his pen and get "The XYZ Show" on air.

Kenya's disputed election in December 2007 added even more fuel to his exposé of Kenyan politics.

"After the 2007 elections, we argued that it was the right time for a show like this, that Kenya needed a show like this: We have one [coalition] government and no opposition so we needed to strengthen criticism," Mwampembwa told the Global Post.

Many don't take kindly to the criticism; Mwampembwa has allegedly faced threats to his personal safety during his career. But that "The XYZ Show" could be broadcast shows a freedom of media in Kenya that Mwampembwa appreciates.

As for keeping a keen eye on the country's politicians, he believes it's not his job alone. "I think it's everybody's duty," he told the BBC.

"You can't put that responsibility on one individual, as every Kenyan should contribute to expose what is happening and to expose corruption."

Watch Gado on CNN on African Voices on Saturday, November 7, 11.30 and 18.30 GMT Sunday, November 8, 17.00 GMT