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African Sci-Fi ≠ Western Sci-Fi

As African space programs pop up across the continent, Africa grows into its own attitude of what makes the future.


* Kofi Allen "Cypher the Beautiful"

“As a young person growing up in the UK I was bombarded with the notion that mechanisation equates to civilization,” Toyin Agbetu, African-British activist and co-curator of the recent “Africa in Science Fiction” conference at London’s Southbank Centre told Okayafrica. “It took me several decades to learn that this was not true compared to the average African of a certain age who still equates mechanisation with suspicion and fears of extractive or exploitative processes.

“The vision of many young Africans is often unhindered by these ideological constraints and legacies. Technology represents a way to manipulate and exploit the present in order to secure a more prosperous future.”

*A production still from Pumzi

Africa has become notorious in recent years for the energy and inventiveness of its young people when it comes to the development of web applications, especially mobile ones. The young geeks clustered around the iHub in Nairobi and MEST in Accra have started to move the conception of Africa from victim of technology to its masters. The danger in examining this shift in ownership of technology is exactly as Agbetu outlines. Africa has not “grown up” or “become civilized” enough to manipulate technology, it has grown into its own attitudes of what makes the future.

Most westerners thinking about African science fiction, for instance, will probably think about District 9, the South African movie by Neill Blomkamp. And certainly that provides one image of an African perspective, but its overt resemblance to Western sci-fi might lead a viewer to think of it as Western sci-fi with a little African “local color.” Too simplistic by half, according to Agbetu.

“African sci-fi literature often differs from Eurocentric visions of the future in that it often normalises spiritual beliefs alongside often contrary views on what is regarded as technological development,” he said. “Indeed technological progression is in many cases actually depicted in terms of reversions (note, not revisions) with ‘back to traditional’ means of operations that reflect familiar ideas and cultural concepts that were bulldozered by colonial era ideological constructs.”

In other words, sci-fi in an African context often means going “back to the future” as much as forward, the “natural” direction of most Western science fiction.

*Sun Ra is a good example of the notion of "back to the future."

All that said, it is undeniable that African nations have experienced a substantial growth in the direction of large-scale, ambitious space science projects. By space science, we mean astrophysics, astronomy, satellite engineering and rocketry.

“Only non-intelligent species fail to consider and plan for their future,” Agbetu said. “Yes it’s true that many African cultures hold a non-linear concept of time as true, but… Africans have and continue to populate history. As such we are constantly evaluating what occurs in the world around us and strategising to best secure a safe and progressive future.”

It seems like a simplistic and even patronizing thing to say for those conversant with Africa, both its history and its present, but given the pervasive image of Africa in non-African media as a place inhabited by tinhorn dictators, fly-blown children, internecine conflict and corruption, it remains necessary to do so: Africans do math. In Africa, much as in Finland, 2+2=4 and that is its salvation, and the reason why there is, despite the differing cultural contexts, no inherent benefit to doing science, at least pure science, in Cambridge than in Pretoria.

Africa is pushing global understanding of space forward in dramatic ways. In the past several years, the number of African countries to have space agencies has increased to eight, with several more on deck. The exploration of space is no longer an activity for the continent’s one-time colonial masters. It is a common human activity in which Africa is determined to take a role.

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Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.

EXPERIENCE 100 WOMEN 2020

The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

100 women 2020

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"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

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GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

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In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

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