Mugendi M’Rithaa and African Design

I had a meeting with the highly sympathetic African design activist and educator Mugendi M’Rithaa in the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. He operates in the Faculty of Design and Informatics. He is a co-founder of Design With Africa, a network for sharing a knowledge base and to be an open forum for debates and case studies on how design is emerging as a strategic development method on the African continent. The network states that they believe that Africa, with its constraints, community centered thinking, and raw commerce, serve as an ideal sandbox for global challenges and new business models. Design With Africa maintains that the role of designers is leaning increasingly towards more socially conscious design activities as is evident in the diverse contexts of Africa, Asia and South America. Socially Responsive Design (SRVD) is something that has been prevalent in my Faculty of Design in Oslo all the time since I took over there as a dean some 6 years ago. I had never met Mugendi in person before, only through internet media. But we found immediately out that we have quite many things in common and common friends in the design field. It was very stimulating to visit his faculty and learn, albeit slightly in the short time I had, about the work they are doing. Mogendi agrees with me that many schools of design in Europe and North America have integrated co-design methodologies at various levels of study and encourage their students to develop projects and activism that addresses current situations. We in Oslo came up with the name Socially Responsive Design and I like to point out our program in Design Strategy as I stipulate in our website. It is important that our students of design and of course immediately active designers are addressing new more open and strategic projects, both at home in Europe and globally like here in Africa.

My friend John Thackara took an interview with Mugendi published in Design Observer where Mugendi explains the issues that he is involved in. When talking about the African context he says that he wants to emphasize the need for social equity and cohesiveness as critical success factors of any sustainable design strategy.

Mugendi says to Thackara:

“Africa has a youthful population, and young people are driving change in music, theater, art and crafts — such as the vibrant multi-disciplinary activities showcased at the GoDown in Nairobi. There is also a sizeable film industry in Nigeria. And hosting the recent soccer 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a massive morale booster for the entire continent. Africa is the fastest growing region in the world for mobile telephony and we are producing some of the most innovative applications in that field like M-Pesa, a phone based money transfer system.”

An other common friend Saki Mafundikwa from Zimbabwe said

“Africa isn’t poor; it just doesn’t have a lot of money!”

This Mugendi refers to and I must admit that this is something that I am fundamentally realizing. The design guru Ezio Manzini said recently when we were in Oslo that if there might be a global disaster of sorts Africa would probably cope better than other regions because it is coping every day and everyone is a life entrepreneur. I decided to move to here to Mozambique years ago and I have been involved in various projects althought the main one is to develop ISArC,  the academy here in Mozambique. An institute with great potential lead by director Filimone Meigos, a sociologist and journalist, film actor and with the passion of a poet.

There is very much small scale activity all over in Mozambique and in the other Southern-Equator African countries. I am learning about lots of movement of creative people around the region, music, dancers, artists and many other people within the performing arts. Design might be a bit behind, but that is more based on our definition of design as a closed system rather than the creative entrepreneurial spirit that prevails in Africa (and actually also in my home country Iceland).

I am hoping for further dialogue with these very stimulating people and look forward to the meeting in Paris of the DESIS Network where we will meet up and compare notes (projects) and methods. This will be linked to the Cumulus Conference in Paris in May.

Student work in Mugendi’s Faculty in Cape Town, South Africa.


April 22, 2011  Tags: , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: ART, DESIGN, MOZAMBIQUE, PONDERINGS