THE COURT JESTERS

You can read the history of Africa through this online trove of political cartoons

Obsession
Africa Innovators
Quartz africa
Obsession
Africa Innovators
Quartz africa

In Africa, where a free press is often more of an ideal than a reality, humorists have sometimes been able to speak truth to power a little more fearlessly than conventional reporters. And the continent’s political cartoonists have been contextualizing the reality of public life to great effect, and in their way, documenting Africa’s history.

Which is why the decision by Nigerian researcher Tejumola Olaniyan to create an online archive of some of the continent’s best cartoons is so invaluable. “I began gathering cartoons from when I was in secondary school in Nigeria. Will save up my lunch money and buy newspapers and cut off the cartoons,” Tejumola Olaniyan told the BBC (audio).

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Olaniyan, who is writing a book about political cartooning in Africa, began collecting newspaper cartoons since the 1970s. “I like to laugh and I like to return back to these images again and again,” he said to the BBC. “So the idea of making a database, a deep archive, began that way.”

“Africa Cartoons” has over 200 cartoonists in its database, which visitors can browse via an interactive map of Africa. Here is Zimbabwean Gregory Mandizvidza‘s succinct account of some of the challenges the continent has faced over the years.

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And this one from another Zimbabwean, Knowleh Mushohwe, expressing a sentiment that will resonate across the continent.

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Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Chigozie Akanihu explains what is needed for political survival in his country, at least during its less democratic periods.

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And here is Kenyan-Tanzanian Godfrey “Gado” Mwampembwa taking on Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Gado’s notoriously cutting sense of humor is thought to have led Tanzania’s government earlier to shut down the East African, a regional newspaper, after it printed a Gado cartoon critical of the president. (He has since left the Nation Media Group, which publishes the East African; political pressure is suspected, though Gado himself insisted it was just a “sabbatical.”)

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This image by Kenya’s Mwaura Kirore, portraying the recklessness of the political elite as Kenya descended into post-election violence, is as powerful a statement as any about that tragic moment in the country’s history.

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From Tanzania, Popa Matumula points out the contradictions in the country’s media.

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Olaniyan is not done yet: He’s asking visitors to suggest more cartoonists to include on Africa Cartoons. “People actually trust their cartoonists more than they trust official authorities to give them a kind of odd angle on the events going on,” he told the BBC. “Not because they tell the truth directly, but because they tell the truth indirectly and makes people understand what’s going on even more.”

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