Why Africa NEEDS Science Fiction!
Updated: Apr 3, 2019
'NO ONE MAN SHOULD HAVE ALL THAT POWER'
As I think about the future, Kanye West's song Power reverberates in my skull. If you told people in 1970s that one day a regular joe would have more computing power than the US used to put a man on the moon, they would probably call you crazy and maybe they would say 'no one man should have all that power '.
The fact is that now almost every man woman and child has access to that power. With the rise of AI, quantum computing and other innovations, that power will only increase. As someone from the African continent, I regularly think of how that power will be used there. I see 2 ways it could play out, good and bad. Firstly the good.
Megabucks are being made by creating highly scalable, low-cost businesses for Africas massive populations. It's not just money being made but the improvement of the quality of life of everyday Africans. There's Twende, the Rwandan pubic commuting smart card ticketing system, 2Kuse, a mobile platform which connects farmers, agents and buyers with banks, Deaftronics solar hearing aid and many more innovations which are serving millions of Africans.
With the accelerated pace of technological innovation, the possibilities seem endless. For instance imagine how many lives will be saved by a tailored AI GP (general practitioner)/ doctor placed on every smartphone, allowing even rural dwellers access to high-quality health advice. Imagine a young kid who used to sit in cramped uncomfortable classes with too many pupils receiving personal tuition from Artificial intelligence on their mums' mobile phone. That's just education and health but the opportunities to build up infrastructure in many other areas will be apparent. With the power of scalability that technological innovation creates, these products/ services once created can be available for millions straight away. What we are talking about is rapid changes of masses of people at a rate unseen in world history.
With 60 per cent of Africa's population below the age of 25, it's very exciting. Young minds will be able to mould these new technologies in ways that the older generations could not, they'll be able to see new solutions to old problems. Once these problems start getting solved and new realities these solutions create seep into the consciousness of the mass public, we will see a tech renaissance in Africa. I am not just talking about economics or well being, but the creation of new social, spiritual and cultural systems, the rebirth and rearranging of quasi African identity. Where it will end up we can only begin to speculate.
This potential 'power to the people' is an opportunity Karl Marx would have dreamed of but something dictators who are inspired by his ideas would have feared.
This brings me to the 2nd possibility. The use of this technological innovation not for liberation but for the entrenchment of the neo-colonial powers or the interests of foreign entities with their own agendas. Imagine if the dictator Sani Abacha had surveillance systems that knows everything about the citizens, their likes, your dislikes, where they were, where they were going at every single moment of the day. In the west, there is already an aspect of this in action (London has the most cameras per capita in the world). Or what if the Hutu leaders of the Rwandan genocide had access to the Boston Dynamics back flipping robots, who were programmed to go after anyone with Tutsi DNA.
The ingredients for a storm of social control in Africa unlike anything ever seen are brewing. These ingredients are big chunks of the populace uneducated (on data and tech), massive social divides between the rich and the poor and technology that puts processing and decision making power into fewer and fewer hands. Whether it's a homegrown dictator who can use facial recognition to track every dissenter to his regime or the Chinese or American companies who own the data from the surveillance tools they supply to him, there is actual cause for concern.
So how will these pitfalls be avoided?
My guess is to use the same tech that could be the tool of enslavement for liberation. If a healthcare or banking system theoretically could be set up in record time with big data then why not a political system. An agricultural system. An innovation system. Seriously I believe hubs of thought on how to combat the coming problems facing African nations will be essential. It's happening already in many places across the continent and this is important. Africa is in a unique position. Though in many places underdeveloped, it is able to learn from the developmental mistakes made by the west.
Like Sarah Connor said, 'the future is not set'. This is true, the future is ours to create. But she also said 'A storm is coming'. The future is also uncertain. This is where I and my fellow artists come in. This is why I believe Sci-Fi is not only important but critical for Africa in this day and age.
There are 2 reason for this assertion:
In the most popular narrative mediums in our time very little energy or time is spent on projecting Africa's future (save maybe for Novels). An African technological revolution is burgeoning, but where is the African Sci-Fi? And before you scoff at Sci-Fi's effect on the 'real world', I would like to point you to global companies like Intel and Google who employ Sci-FI writers and futurists to predict future scenarios and even the US government has been consulting with science fiction writers for a long time now.
To paraphrase, Yuval Noah Harari, '21 lessons for the 21st century',
'In any war, the artists are just as important as the soldiers'
Countless movements in history have either been fuelled or in some way shaped by art. Poems about God or the beautiful cathedral paintings helped inspired crusaders invading the Mediterranean, lush advertising imagery partly fuelled modern capitalism and empires from the Benin kingdom to the Romans, to the Egyptians relied on art to communicate their legitimacy.
While innovation is happening fast on the continent, there is also a need to ask questions and reflect, so we don't build our future haphazardly and by happenstance. It annoys me to see African leaders playing ethnic politics, spouting populist messages but nobody seems to have A.I, global warming or solar energy on their manifestoes. I get it, a lot of the populations' concerns are immediate and hence the future is an afterthought but it doesn't seem that our leaders (save for Paul Kagame) are thinking about the future. Maybe they are not considering it because they aren't being asked about it?
So what are the far-reaching questions that are should be asked of our political and business leaders? What are the questions that we should be asking ourselves?
These are some of the questions I have been considering; What type of society are taking shape in 21st century Africa and beyond? What type of societies are possible for 21st century Africa? How do we prepare for the potential climate change based catastrophes awaiting us? How will male-female relations be remoulded in this new age?
We as artists need to be putting these questions on the table and into public consciousness. If these questions are not even asked, someone will provide answers and they likely will not be in the best interest of the everyday common African.
The second reason I feel African Sci-Fi is important is inspiration. It gives us space to dream. This is a continent that has to deal with, a sometimes harsh present reality. It also has to deal with imagery, projected around the world, depicting Africa as poverty-stricken and a technological black hole. A lot of people seek to address this by referring Africans back to their past glories. I choose a different tack, I want to point us to our glorious future. This is not just to change the way Africa is seen by people outside of it but mostly for people inside the continent.
Marc Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Sergey Brin are among the entrepreneurs who have shaped our world and also were inspired by science fiction narratives. What of the 10-year-old in a Kenyan village who comes across a film or book that is set in 22nd century Nairobi and goes on to develop a solar-powered rail system running through the whole of Africa. While I don't believe you have to come from a place to be inspired by it, I do think Africa has it's own particular problems and hence will need its own set of solutions.
So this is a clarion call to my fellow creators and my own internal rallying call. Let us start to envision Africa's future. Let us use our imaginations to build the worlds we want to see and warn people of the worlds we don't want to see. As a Sci-Fi filmmaker, I may not build the next tech innovation but if I can be the spark in the mind of someone who will, maybe someone not even born yet, I will have served my time on this planet well.
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About the Author:
Nosa Igbinedion is a filmmaker whose work has won multiple awards, been featured in national press around the world. He is the creator of Rise of the Orisha, a superhero universe based on traditional african deities. His latest piece 'Binge watching' was commissioned by the BBC and BFI and screened on BBC 4. As the co-founder of the genre 'Social Realist Sci Fi', his work revolves around spirituality, politics and the future. Inspired by Science Fact as much as Science Fiction, he wants to amongst other things, 'prototype Africa's future.'
Yuval Noah Harari, 21 lessons for the 21st century (2018)