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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Celebrating freedom with colonial graphics

By Andrew Mulenga

It has been a familiar sight over the past six months, but have you ever taken a purposeful look at it or wondered how we arrived at Zambia’s 50th anniversary logo, or simply the “Jubilee logo” as it is being called.

 Without doubt it is the country’s most important work of graphic design since prominent independence emblems such as the flag and coat of arms. Justifiably, it was even granted an official launch by Cabinet Office at the Mulungushi Conference centre on 22nd march 2014 before senior government officials, ambassadors and chief executive officers from the private sector among other distinguished guests.

The 50th anniversary logo borrows heavily
from the imperialist, Northern Rhodesia coat of arms
In her official speech, officiating at the ceremony, Permanent Secretary Administration, Cabinet Office, Annie Silungwe described the event as the launching of “a new visual identity”.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you may ask why create a logo for a celebration? This logo we are about to launch today will serves two main functions. Firstly it will visually communicate the spirit of the celebration and create a memorable or recognizable reference for future generations,” she stated in “In other words, ladies and gentlemen, the new logo will give a unique visual identity and branding to the celebrations, creating a unified look to all celebratory activities and bringing the celebrations under a cohesive easily identified visual identity.  To this end, the logo will provide a consistent and simplified external public image to the general public that will be easy to recognize and visually unifying.”

She declared that the logo is intended to be the "face" of the celebrations and that it is a graphical display of the country's unique identity, through the national colours and symbols as the chief visual component of the celebration’s overall brand identity.

The logo was designed at the invitation of the Zambia@50 Secretariat, the body appointed by government, responsible for organising the countrywide jubilee through a contest that was “open to individuals living in and outside Zambia” and according to the republican vice-president Dr Guy Scott’s speech in parliament on Thursday, 17th July, 2014: “The logo competition was made public from 9th to 14th February, 2014. During the selection process, considerations were made to ensure that the logo depicted major Zambian icons.”
The final winning design was selected by judges appointed by the Zambia Adjudicator’s Panel which falls under the National Arts Council of Zambia, their decision was final, however the Zambia@50 Secretariat reserved the right “not to select a winner if, in its sole discretion, no suitable entries are received.”
Nevertheless, the named winner of the competition walked away with a cash prize of K5, 000 during the official launch as well as “a unique certificate signed by the President of the Republic of Zambia”, the guarantee of “official invitations to all Celebratory State Functions” and “The right to identify him/herself as the Zambia 50th Anniversary logo designer.”

Yet, looking at the whole process one is drawn to feel that the six-day period for advertising and submission of entries for a competition of this importance was too short, how many Zambians even heard of it? Did it feature on as many radio stations and in as many newspapers as possible?

Was it widely publicised in schools for instance? If the younger generations of Zambians are not in the majority, they certainly are among the most imaginative and would have certainly gone to town with such a contest if it was given to them long before hand, it is not as if people did not know when the jubilee celebrations would occur.

That aside, ironically, the first point under an “Intellectual Property” list for the competition states that “All submitted work must be original and not based on any pre-existing design.” But just one look at the logo reveals its absolutely embarrassing resemblance to the imperialist coat of arms of Northern Rhodesia which is said to have been design by a draughtsman from Britain’s Royal Navy, stationed in the Western Cape of South Africa.

There is no telling why the British imperialists adopted the fish eagle clutching a fish in its talons as the emblem for this land when they governed it on behalf of the locals, but one can suspect the birds continued usage on national symbols is partly because these emblems too were designed by the setller’s descendants, who may have still been attached to the bird just as the group that still flies the colonial flag and coat of arms on their nostalgic website The Great North Road, dedicated to the diaspora of “Northern Rhodesians Worldwide” – a good number may be the whites who could not adapt to the integration with blacks.
Anyway, it appears the designer of the jubilee logo could have made quick work of the task using graphic design software. Including the time to Google the image of an eagle to trace over, place the figure 50 in the typeface Times New Roman Italic where the fish is supposed to be, throw the national colours in a circle as a backdrop and add “1964 One Zambia one nation 2014” on a golden ribbon at the bottom, it probably took the “artist” 15 minutes to design and that much time to etch his way into the history books for creating something that celebrates 50 years of independence. By any guess, it was probably designed with one hand, on a mobile phone during breakfast or any other activity, but anyway, perhaps there is no need to be downright cynical.

But seriously, looking at the whole logo it betrays the concept of the function for which it is intended, freedom. It is an outright mockery not only of 50 years of freedom as a nation, but it celebrates an enormously unimaginative sense of creativity and the cosmic proportions of ignorance that the so-called panel of judges, the Zambia@50 Secretariat and government officials possess regarding the symbolism and the digging into history is concerned.

The purpose of this article is not entirely to question the creativity of the designer, but it serves to question the moral validity of the logo and the resourcefulness of the handful of individuals that sanctioned it on behalf of the Zambian people. But ultimately this article serves as a testimony to generations of Zambians to come that not everyone agreed with the second-hand design of the logo and 50 years from now, may the Zambian’s that will be alive for the 100th Anniversary learn from the pitiful mistake that is the Zambia 50th Anniversary logo. Let them take more time on it and if they are going to use a competition let them make it more transparent and more accessible to the general public.

The Golden Jubilee celebrations are being held under the theme “Commemorating God’s Favour of Zambia’s 50 years of independence for continued peace, unity, democracy and prosperity”. Clearly, it appears God’s favour has not extend towards creativity if 50 years after independence we are still clutched like the fish in the talons of the colonial eagle. Perhaps for the settlers the eagle may have symbolized a spirit of adventure and the freedom to plunder, or perhaps its usage was literal and merely celebrated a real life bird that individual Zambian’s live lifetimes without ever casting an eye on (Livingstone Museum and The Copperbelt Museum in Ndola have preserved specimens of this magnificent bird).

1 comment:

  1. As a professional graphics designer, and in particular, logo designer, I totally agree with you.
    No disrespect to the designer of the Zambia50 logo, but I believe the logo is totally amateur. This logo breaks all the basic rules of logo design. Firstly, a logo should not lean too heavily on background colour, as seen with the flag in the circle. That detail loses meaning instantly when printed in black and white.
    I really don't want to go into details. All I can say is that the judges are to be blamed for choosing this logo, without having any idea of graphic design and without consulting professionals before selecting the winner.
    This case is not very different from that of the Zambia tourism "Lets Explore" logo.