Mozambique's main mobile phone company, M-Cel, has apologised for defacing the walls of historic monuments on Mozambique Island, off the coast of the northern province of Nampula.

The island was the first colonial capital of Mozambique, and its unique blend of Africa, Arab and European cultures led the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to declare it a World Heritage Site.   Central and local governments have a responsibility to defend the integrity of World Heritage Sites. UNESCO was therefore shocked when huge and garish advertisements for M-Cel began to appear on the walls of publicly and privately owned buildings on the island.

This is the equivalent of a French company daubing slogans on the front of Chartres Cathedral, or of a British one turning the megalithic monument of Stonehenge into an advertising venue.

Local UNESCO representatives approached the Mozambique Island municipal authorities asking them to stop M-Cel defacing the buildings, pointing out that the adverts were unacceptable under the principles for protecting world heritage sites.

It also violated municipal by-laws, and was in sharp contradiction with the declared objective of the Mozambican government to uphold the cultural and architectural integrity of the island.

The Mozambique Island Conservation Office (GACIM) was neither consulted nor informed of the painting. Since the Municipal Council (run by the former rebel movement Renamo) seemed unwilling or unable to end the vandalism, UNESCO called on the Ministry of Education and Culture to step in and repair the damage. But such intervention may not be necessary, since M-Cel itself has now ordered the paintings removed, and the original colour of the walls restored.

The apology published by M-Cel blamed the painting on a company that had been subcontracted locally to run the M-Cel advertising campaign in that part of the country. But M-Cel had apparently not imagined that this company would deface parts of a World Heritage Site.

The way the adverting campaign was implemented on Mozambique Island "is an affront to the values that M-Cel defends as an ethically and socially responsible institution", the M-Cel statement read. It pledged a speedy repair of the damage to the buildings and reiterated its "total commitment to the preservation of the historic and cultural heritage of our country".

(SOURCE: Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique)