Daily Nation cartoonist Godfrey "GADO" Mwampembwa this week was at the UN headquarters in New York to participate in a seminar entitled "Cartooning for Peace: The Responsibility of Political Cartoonists?" The seminar, which was organised by the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) in partnership with the Emory University’s Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning, was opened by UN Secretary-General Koffi Anan.
In his address to the seminar, Mr. Anan described cartoons as an" important form of social and political commentary." He also noted that cartoons can cause offense remarking, "that is part of their point." However, he stated his opposition to state regulation of cartoonists' work saying: "Even if we decided to ban all cartoons that are deeply offensive to large numbers of people, we would still be asking the state to make some very subjective judgements and embarking on the slippery slope of censorship." He stated his preference for leaving the decision on what to publish in the hands of editors and cartoonists themselves saying this involved self censorship, "excercised... in a spirit of genuine respect for other people's feelings, not out of fear."
Mr. Anan also warned against "cartoon wars" in which one group publishes cartoons that are offensive to another in retaliation to offenses it believes itself to have suffered. This was a veiled reference to the exhibition of Holocaust cartoons organised by Iran's biggest-selling newspaper, Hamshahri, in retaliation for the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed published in Danish newspapers. During his visit to Iran in September, Mr. Anan raised concerns with Iranian officials over the exhibition.
The New York seminar is part of the “Unlearning Intolerance” series, launched by DPI, and was the brainchild of French cartoonist Plantu (Jean Plantureux). He says the idea for the gathering was born in 1991, when Plantu met then Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat, who drew the Star of David for one of Plantu’s drawings and signed it. “At that time, Yasser Arafat could not say, ‘I recognize the State of Israel,’ and yet, with a blue felt tip pen he drew the Star of David on the Israeli flag,” says the cartoonist. The following year, Plantu traveled to Israel and convinced then-Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres to sign the same drawing. It was the first time that signatures from both the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization had been affixed to the same document prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords. “Since that time, I have thought a great deal about the role of newspaper cartoonists,” Plantu said.
Participating cartoonists came from countries around the world including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Palestine, Switzerland, and the United States.
You can watch archived video of the proceedings here.