missa em moçambiquemissa em moçambiqueSubstituting the mechanical use of fashionable language for the act of thinking is part of the package that has created the emptiness that characterizes our time. I have already spoken about ‘workshops’ as a filler language legitimates the proliferation of seminars, workshops, and conferences that have swarmed across the world in such an unproductive manner. Some fashionable terms are like ‘sustainable development’. One of these magical terms that does away with any kind of rationality is the phrase ‘local community’. By some inexplicable logic ‘local communities’ are understood as pure innocents and bearers of sacred values. Do communities say no? So nothing is done. What do communities want? To be compensated, immediately. These communities appear like they are otherworldly entities, viewed as some sort of purifying balm by paternalistic so-called developed powers.

Communities are above any kind of suspicion; they are incorruptible and have an unfailing vision for the future of humanity. At least that is how some missionaries for the new religion called ‘development’ think. The trope of civil associations serves to illustrate this sanctified sanctifying concept. This pure thing does not exist. Thankfully. What there are human things, with the faults and virtues of all human things.

In my work I have encountered some ‘situations’ that reveal the good and bad of the human soul.  I confess that I mostly see the bad side of humanity. One example: the production team for the film Blood Diamonds (starting Leondardo DiCaprio) was looking along the beach on the outskirts of Maputo for a place to film a war scene. The Municipal Counsel chose a free and deserted zone. The next day, the beach was full of huts. In only one night, the zone had achieved Bangladesh levels of density. The producers patiently tried to negotiate. They had had a traumatic experience filming the movie The Beach when serious denouncers had put them on the politically incorrect list. They had negotiated with an old man who was introduced as the traditional chief of the area. They paid a little money. The community had not yet gained the ‘great thief’ status of some politicians and bankers. Then what happened? The producers worried about getting behind schedule. It costs a lot to have Leonardo DiCaprio every day.

Martin Baer and Claus Wischmann’s film Kinshasa SymphonyMartin Baer and Claus Wischmann’s film Kinshasa Symphony 

The houses were destroyed and everything seemed to be going as planned, when, the next day, there was a pile of grates, trees, and people obstructing access to the beach. What happened? It turned out the traditional chief who had been introduced the day before haven’t been the ‘authentic’ one. Because the real leader was another who now demanded a new payment. They broke the budget (a small amount in metals) for the ‘indigenous’, a lot in dollars for the Hollywood stars. The scene would have to be shot once more. Production was ready to cancel everything and find another location, preferably far away from any community.

Another example: teams of Canadians going around northern Mozambique, doing some survey work for a hydrocarbonates project. Hundreds of kilometers of strategic roads were opened in the savanna, between land mines and territory ruled by lions and elephants. It cost a fortune. No one felt it more than the ones who paid for it. But in terms of Mozambican interests, maybe someone should be worried by what happened next. The marks that had been left for the team that would come to carry out the next operation had been moved from their original position. The GPS localization data was all wrong. What had happened? The regional farmers knew that wherever the roads crossed through their fields they would have a right to compensation. Do I condemn these farmers, decimators of false signs?  I don’t know. If I were one of them I would have moved some of the marks to get a little change.

The truth is that the effort to idealize, motivated either by the prophets of development or the defenders of the weak doesn’t reflect the reality, which is more complex and mundane. The good savage was never ‘good’, nor ‘savage’. ‘The good savage’ was simply human.


This article was originally published in the journal Africa 21, March 2011 edition.

Translation:  Megan Eardley

by Mia Couto
Mukanda | 4 July 2011 | communities