Cartoonists fight corruption through comics

Finnish cartoonist Leif Packalen is using comics to fight corruption in Africa. He leads a small voluntary organisation, World Comics, which has organised workshops for artists in India, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique for 10 years.

“Comics are cheap to make, very flexible and they attract readers easily. Almost any thing or idea is possible to tell a story in the form of comics,” says Packalen.

The latest World Comics Workshop, held in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, in April, brought together 25 leading comics, artists and cartoonists from across the East African country.

“Literacy level is low in Tanzania, and even though people can read—it is not always enough to get information from text books.

Television came to Tanzania in the 1990s and it eliminated the habit of reading,” complains Katti Ka-Batembo, the country’s leading artist.

“In many villages there is no electricity and, thus, no television. There is a real need to spread information in Tanzania and people are keen to read comics,” he says.

Recently Ka-Batembo published a comic strip about malaria prevention.

“We expected to do a lot of human rights work by means of comics during the workshop, but the result exceeded our expectations, the stories cover all aspects of corruption. In Tanzania, corruption is deeply rooted in services, you often hear ‘come tomorrow’ unless you give the official some money,” says Kaleb Lameck Gamaya of the Dar es Salaam-based Legal and Human Rights Centre, which co-hosted the workshop.

“Comics are a fantastic medium; it’s human, entertaining and full of humour. With a few pages one can tell as much as in a book.

I’d like to produce a book of comics. This is only the beginning,” says Gamaya.

James Gayo, who is well known for his comic strip Kingo, says many organisations in Tanzania now use comics to convey information.

“Educational comics are made of topics that are not easy to swallow, like health issues. In comics, message is put on day-to-day life to make it easy to understand. With these workshops we have learned that comics can do much more than entertain,” says Gayo, who was the course leader.

“In comics every story presents a solution: to know your rights and fight for them,” he says.

The World Comics workshops are financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland as part of development aid budget. The Ministry has published a comic strip, known as Comics With An Attitude, by Packalen and Ghanian artist Frank Odoi.

The 96-page book is a bestseller; the sixth edition is already out from printing. It is also published in Hindi and Tamil by the World Comics, India branch.

“Comics are cheap and accessible for organisations with limited resources,” says Packalen. They can be made by amateur artists and published in small photocopied booklets.

“It is cost effective; no other development aid project can beat it,” says Packalen. - Sapa-IPS

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