It’s 2118 and you’ve arrived in Lagos for a book festival. When you step out of the airport, what is the first thing you see?
It’s hard not to notice. A people full of life. The hustle, the bustle. There is the frenzy that pervades the air and for anyone that has encountered Nigeria’s literary scene, you cannot but feel the energy that has produced such a boisterous global literary acclaim. The story lives here. But one can also feel and imagine that a re-imagined future of Africa has the potential to berth here. The energy of the people, the aggressive youth population, if well-harnessed, can provide the tonic to energise a future that moves beyond borders, and ignite the whole of Africa.
You’ve been selected for a mission to the moon. Which African author are you taking and why?
I definitely would want the company of Nnedi Okorafor. Apart from being a fan of her writing, her art speaks to contemporary Africa milieu within the context of fantasy. Take ‘Who Fears Death’ for example. Set in a future, post-apocalyptic Sudan with relic technology , computers and electronics, pervasive rape and racially motivated genocide. Technology and magic coalesce into a classic tale. The thematic pre-occupation in her works which centre on serious social issues: racial and gender inequality, political violence, the destruction of the environment, genocide and corruption are conveyed through the framework of fantasy. Nnedi would make a good company to the moon where the debate would centre on creating a future for Africa beyond her present realities.
What invention do you think would change the lives of Africans today?
Africa is at a crossroads. This continent is still caught in her chequered past of sit-tight leaders intent in dragging it backwards to the years when Idi Amin and Mobutu made feudalism seem like child play. We still have pockets of a best forgotten African past in Uganda where Yoweri Museveni continues to suppress the opposition. In South Cameroon, Paul Biya is in a brutal crackdown of activists. Yes, Africa has to move into the future, but leadership will be critical to unleashing the potentials of Africans to invent and innovate a future that is not far off. Such innovation and invention would be needed to make healthcare and quality technological education available to the bottom poor who live in remote African villages far from urban centres being erroneously showcased as examples of renaissance.
Two things you’re doing when not reading or writing?
First, if lazing around could be considered a hobby, one of my favourite pastimes is to just sit around and do nothing in my spare time. Second is swimming.
To what extent has African literature envisioned an African future?
Afrofuturism and its thematic concerns about envisioning an African future is a fast rising genre. The momentum is gathering. The success of ‘Black Panther’ (2018), one of the highest grossing films ever made, is an example of how literature envisions this future as captured in the groundbreaking movie. Wakanda’s commercial success is a product of, and adds to, a growing popularisation and even valorisation of forms, metaphysics, symbols, and other cultural elements recognisable as ‘African’. Black Panther introduces to mainstream audiences a different way of envisioning Africa and black futures: Afrofuturism. It portrays a high-tech African nation of Wakanda that is technologically almost a century ahead of the rest of the world. Such milestones achieved in film need to be replicated in African literature. A number of current Black science and speculative fiction authors have also been characterised as Afrofuturist or as employing Afrofuturist themes.
What book do you think best captures Afrofuturism?
It will be Octavia Butler’s science fiction books – narrated from the perspective of black people all through the ages as they metamorphose and adapt to a progressively aggressive world, both from the material and societal milieu – come close to capturing Afrofuturism. More specifically, Butler’s Patternist Series and ‘Wild Seed’ explore Afrofuturist themes, as the account of two eternal Africans, Anyanwu and Doro, which featured science fiction technologies.
You wake up one morning to find that you’ve grown a pair of wings. What do you do?
This may seem weird but in my formative years, I used to fly around a lot – across cities, lol. But that was in my dream though. But waking up to find that I have grown a pair of wings would be an exciting experience to fly to unexplored places on earth.
Name one book that made you think differently about the world.
It will be non-fiction. The award winning seminal work, ‘Why Nations Fail, The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty’ (2012) written by Daren Acemoglu (MIT) and James Robinson, (University of Chicago). The book applies insights from institutional economics, development economics and economic history to understand why nations develop differently, with some succeeding in the accumulation of power and prosperity and others failing. It changed my perspective of how political institutions are responsible for the failure or success of nation-states.
What is the most difficult part of your creative process?
Creating the first draft.
What is your African dream?
An Africa that makes a radical departure from its dark past and look into the future with technology and its youth population as the drivers of innovative changes.