By David Himbara
Historically, political satire and cartoons terrified kings, emperors, and all manner of dictators. Since they started appearing in Western European newspapers in the 19th century, cartoons continue to drive fear into dictators to this day. Rwanda’s ruler, General Paul Kagame, just became the latest victim of what I may term ”cartoon fear.” Kagame just banned cartoons. The question is — why do dictators fear laugher? More importantly, does laughter dramatize the limits of power? In Kagame’s case, is his regime too weak to handle a joke to the point of banning cartoons?
Cartoons and political satire are now crimes in Kagame’s Rwanda
Cartoons such as the above are not tolerated in Rwanda. Drawing cartoons or producing writings that “humiliates” Kagame, his cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, and military generals is now a crime in Rwanda. Strangely, ”defaming” Kagame was already illegal — this fetches five to seven years in prison and a US$8,140 fine. The new law widens the net of the untouchables as follows:
”Any person who, verbally, by gestures or threats, in writings or cartoons, humiliates a member of parliament when exercising his/her mandate, a member of the Cabinet, security officers or any other person in charge of a public service in the performance or in connection with the performance of his/her duties, commits an offence.”
According to Kagame’s new law, any cartoonist who targets public servants faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to US$1,145. But if the cartoonist targets a parliamentarian or a cabinet minister, the penalty doubles. There you have it. In Kagame’s Rwanda, laughter is now a crime. One wonders what Kagame will ban next.