When an old family friend got in touch a year ago
to see if her department at Edinburgh Napier University could help
develop a visual identity for the Mossuril Film Festival, a project of
which I am a founding member, we were naturally delighted. Beyond the
good reputation of the University, I personally was delighted that a
graphics department in Edinburgh was looking to develop a relationship
with a civil society organisation in Africa.
At first the collaboration produced posters, flyers and a visual
identity for a film festival and a soap cooperative. The idea was to
show that graphics can be applied to portray positive stories, not just
the usual derogatory images of African nations that appear in the
foreign sections of many newspapers. The images created by the students
matched the will and enthusiasm of a team of people I, and my colleagues
had begun to work with on the ground in Mozambique, and the project soon
began to attract the attention of foreign and domestic funders.
The graphics were working, operating side-by-side on the Internet with
the continuous flow from the prophets of doom. Then the students,
together with two tutors, applied and got funding to come to
Mozambique. All that remained was to demystify the whole logistics
process. After all, the class was planning to travel to Africa and the
old clichés returned to haunt everyone.
Africa? Would it be safe? Could students spend time in a rural area,
working with local people to build brands, without clear and present
dangers? A quick search on Google of Mozambique threw up phrases like
'former civil war', 'road issues' and 'occasional kidnappings'. As if a
tourist in Japan might decide to avoid the UK based on Google searches
throwing up 'Oliver Cromwell' and 'clogged M25'.
Bad things do of course occur to unlucky people in Mozambique, just like
they do in London, New York, Hong Kong or Glasgow. But bad things that
happen in Mozambique tend to be exaggerated because it is easy for
journalists to do so. It is easy to defame a country that once had a
conflict. If a car is hijacked in South Africa, it hardly makes the
news, so regular are armed assaults on the road. Whereas in Mozambique
children throwing stones at a tree can be reported as 'imminent civil war'.
This is where Edinburgh Napier's contribution is key. Mozambique has 2,500
kilometres of virgin coast, 2,450 of which are accessible without
danger. The people are friendly, open and welcoming. While disturbances
have occurred on a 50 kilometres stretch of the 2,000+ North-South road,
the way they are reported suggests the whole of Mozambique is in
turmoil. Which again, is completely wrong. This is not a negligent or
defensive attitude. It is simply the truth. I have travelled around the
north of the country on-and-off in the last six months and I have not
seen a single sign of war or armed conflict, apart from online in the
But I don't want to get bogged down with correcting the image of
Mozambique abroad. I think five students from Napier have done that far
better than I ever could. The images and activities shown in the blog
portray a calm, inviting, friendly and colourful landscape - Macua
society. Many local Mozambican Macua students are well aware of these
attributes and are equally frustrated by foreign claims of domestic
disturbances generated by desperate freelance journalists.
The marketing skills local schoolchildren are learning working together
with Napier students - painting, graphics and creating dynamic visual
identities for a project and a place - will not only serve them
individually, it will help them all further illustrate the gems and joys
of Mozambique and their local environment. Through its work with the
festival, Edinburgh Napier is helping build a cultural institution that will
hopefully serve a district of 130,000 people for generations to come.
Bob Dylan said 'How I'd like to be in Mozambique' but no one knows if he
ever went. Five students and two tutors from Edinburgh Napier University
followed his call and have shown that the times, they are a changing.