Meet the genius behind ITV’s ‘Mtu Kwao’ cartoons

11Mar 2016
Ndeninsia Lisley
The Guardian
Meet the genius behind ITV’s ‘Mtu Kwao’ cartoons

Considered the first professional cartoonist in Tanzania to do daily editorial cartoons for television, Nathan Mpangala is a multitalented artist.

Nathan Mpangala

Based in Dar es Salaam, he is a cartoonist, illustrator, painter and animator and he attributes his prowess not to talent but hard work and training.

He has attended and graduated from various national and international institutes before becoming the professional cartoonist that he is working for several newspapers and the Independent Television (ITV).

He is a member of Nafasi Art Group and a country volunteer for the US based NGO Help for Underserved Communities. He sheds his pros and cons to The Guardian Correspondent Ndeninsia Lisley. Read on...

QUESTION: Could you briefly tell us when you started drawing cartoons?

ANSWER: I started drawing different cartoons such small cartoon strips (before focusing on editorial cartoons some 15 years ago.

Editorial cartoons are also known as ‘political cartoons’ they are illustrations that also have a commentary that usually relates to current events or personalities.

Q: How did you get started?

A: After finishing my secondary school education, I joined the Kinondoni Young Artist Group in 1990 and got fine art training.

From there I started painting and it was hard as I was depending on exhibitions only to show my work, it was hard for sure.

In 1993, I started working with senior cartoonists (newspaper) to promote my art.

Q: What inspired you to be a cartoonist?

A: I was very interested with drawings of other people such as Pimbi, Lodilofa, Ndumilakuwili and Kipepe published in the Sani newspaper back in the 90s.

Books having pictures and drawings were like gold to me at that time, I was real fond of them and if I got one, I kept it.

I was also inspired by works of other cartoonists like the late Philip Ndunguru, John Kaduma, Marco Mussa and Chakubanga.

Even now am inspired by the works of my colleagues like Ibra Washokera, Paul Ndunguru, Chris Katembo, James Gayo and Masoud kipanya.

Q: How did start drawing for newspapers?

A: I remember the then Uhuru editor Beda Msimbe assigned me to draw two cartoons every day. To his surprise, I submitted more than two cartoons, that pleased him and he gave me the chance to draw for Uhuru.

Q: When was your first cartoon published and how did you feel?

A: Though my drawings took a very long time to be published after I submitted it but I remember it was 1994 and the first piece was published in the Uhuru newspaper.

I didn’t believe it was real. The editor called and informed me that my drawing was published, I was surprised. I went to the office to see it by myself. That encouraged me a lot.

Q: Were you getting paid?

A: Yes, I was paid 5000 per published drawing. My drawing to be published meant a lot to me even if there was no payment I was satisfied (laughing)

Q: What was the name of your cartoon section in the paper?

A: It was ‘Mtu Kwao’ I still use the name.

In 1998 I started drawing for Mwananchi, The Express, Nipashe and Rai, I was drawing for different newspapers because I was a freelancer.

Also, I was drawing for the cartoon newspaper ‘Sataya’ which was under Business Times at that time.

Q: Have you ever thought of working with electronic media?

A: Yes I did, and my wish was to work with Independence Television (ITV) which I now do.

Q: When did you start drawing for ITV?

A: Well, it was in 2006 when I joined ITV and started a new chapter in my career becoming the first cartoonist in Tanzania to do daily editorial cartoons on television.

I do remember I was in Arusha when I received a call from the Managing Director Joyce Mhaville asking if I can draw for ITV and that’s how we started the Mtu Kwao section.

Q: Where do you get ideas for Mtu Kwao?

A: First you have to understand that editorial cartoons are a very wide section, so I have to be current, update myself through various news sources as well as socializing with different people.

That’s how I develop the cartoon ideas.

Q: So is it training or talent?

A: This is a talent God granted me, but it is also enhanced with knowledge and training.

Q: Do you have a favourite cartoon?

A: To be honest, I like all my drawings, but there is this one, it was a cartoon on fake money published in Uhuru 1995. Even the Bank of Tanzania (BOT) wanted it because it was alerting the public on fake money. It really helped to promote my work.

Q: Have you attended any exhibition or won any awards nationally or international?

A: Yes, in 2003 I was invited to the Netherlands to participate in The Next 5 Minutes International Festival. In 2004 I worked for Africa Animated Project organised by UNESCO in Kenya and in 2005 I was invited to the 15th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival in Brazil.

In 2008 I held a cartoon exhibition in Norway about Health Challenges in Tanzania. In 2009 I was employed by Kenya’s Tiger Aspect Production (UK) as animator.

As for awards, in 2002 I was awarded the Best Cartoonist for Tanzania Sports Writers Association and in 2011 I won the Best Cartoonist Category in the Excellence in Journalism Award (EJAT) organized by Media Council of Tanzania (MCT).

Q: Are you engaged in any other work other than the artwork you do?

A: In 2011, I founded and coordinated a voluntary program called Wafanye Watabasamu (Make Them Smile) in which we exhibit art work for children admitted at hospitals to cheer them up which helps with the healing process. It is called Art Therapy.

Q: What other study courses have taken?

A: Between 2011 and 2013 I attended the Video Production, Investigative, Online Reporting and Movement Strategies for Journalists at Authentic School of Journalism in Mexico. I also attended Advance Study on Nonviolent Conflict at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA in 2012.

I took Communication for Advocacy Strategy towards the Eradication of Violence against Women (2003) by Equity Tanzania, Cartoons and Photo Communication in Corruption & Good Governance (2008) by Pact-Tanzania, I also did Power and Voice Course, Social Accountability Course and Development Communication course all by MS TCDC.

Q: Have you been commissioned by any organisation?

A: Yes, some are Hakikazi Catalyst, HakiElimu, HakiArdhi, Tanzania Education Network, Legal and Human Rights Centre, Pamoja Tuwalee, Policy Forum, Family Planning, Tanzania Aids Project, Water Witness, TAMWA, TGNP, SIKIKA, LEAT, Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, Zanzibar Madrasa Resources Center and FIDH (France).

Q: What is your opinion of the cartoon industry in the country compared to other nations?
A: In East Africa, Tanzania’s cartoon industry takes the lead. We have a lot of talent even Kenya uses the Tanzania cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa ‘Gado’.

As for Europe and USA, they are in another level, their cartoon industry begun since 17 century, we can’t compete with them at all.

Q: What are the hurdles facing the cartoon industry in Tanzania

A: There are a lot of challenges we have to strengthen the market by improving our drawing, increasing support for artists and nurturing new talent.

Also, at the moment, cartoonist are not taken seriously at all, there are no main courses in higher learning institutions, we work in very unfriendly environments, our freedom of expression is limited and there are no organisations to defend and promote the rights of cartoonist as journalists.

Q: Are any of your children taking to wear your shoes?

A: (laughing) none of them.

Q: What advice would you give the government, schools, parents and the community in general?

A: Parents should help nurture their children’s talent and motivate them.

Also in schools, I believe that better education should go together with talent rising, so relevant sector must create specific cartoon sections in the art syllabus.

The government through Ministry of Information, Culture, Artists and Sports should recognise cartoonist as journalists and as a profession in general and that way prepare legislation to protect our rights and the copyrights of our work.