I was maybe half a year or a year into writing for The East African and still high on the fumes of this totally incredible fricking unbelievable how-the-hell-did-it-even-happen opportunity when a colleague said to me: 'you know that they're reading this, don't you? The politicians and people you write about? Across five countries?'
I didn't really sleep that night. Until I told myself that this is The East African we're talking about, home to some of the continent's most fearless- and funny- politician-dissing veterans of free speech*. Everything would be just fine. And it has been**. And this sense of security hasn't been seriously shaken until today when I read this here article telling me that Gado will not be cartooning for the EA anymore.
The media and freedom of speech have been deteriorating in East Africa these past few years, I can feel it and I can see it and frankly it is why roughly a year or so ago I self-censored and stopped commenting on regional happenings to focus on Tanzania or general topics***. The EA and we residents of the region who had access to it have lost something incredibly valuable, and we might never get it back. :(
"His fans have been spoiled. We're used to taking for granted that when Monday rolls around one of the events guaranteed to make the start of the workweek slightly less dreadful would be Gado's skewering of some inanity, usually political. The last time Gado didn't show up in The East African as expected, there was a complete freakout online. He was forced to emerge from his little break to reassure us that he was alive and well and whatever horrors we were busy imagining were just that- imagined. A pretty strong indicator of the value placed on his work by its consumers, right?"Little did we know...
*It is true that these veterans generally have a history of being seriously bullied by their governments, somehow survived and continue to be disdainful of despots.
**Turns out that the most dangerous thing that has ever happened to me is reading furious and unpleasant comments/emails from Kenyans. I annoy Kenyans a lot, it seems. I wonder why? Makes me sad because I like them ever so much. Especially their rugby team. Sigh. But seriously, the closest I have ever come to encountering official displeasure was a customs official at Julius Nyerere International who wasn't satisfied with my stated occupation of 'writer' and demanded to know if I was a journalist. When I assured him that I am not, he turned his frown upside down and wished me a pleasant trip.
*** The reason I make fun of Kenyans is because I honest-to-God like them. They have a fantastic sense of humor when they're not busy being mad at me for tweaking their ego. As an American said to me once, Kenyans are the Americans of East Africa, which I guess would make Tanzania the Canadians? As for Uganda, it is basically impossible to make more fun of their politicians, including the President, than they do themselves. Mad respect. However, I don't write about the other EAC countries anymore because [redacted] and that's [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] travel to [redacted] [redacted] regional integration. Know what I mean?