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?
Air travel is a thing of the past. So we sail past the islands to the historical deep harbour dug all through the 2020s and opened in 2035. The deep harbour is now 83 years old, and that history is embodied in the number of grand old ships open to the public along the Victoria Island quay.
But far to the north, to my left, is a wall of containers in all colours, piled high and being loaded onto flat cars by cranes.
Beyond that, contained by a high wall, I can see the tops of the trees of the wetlands nature preserve. To the right, stretching out along the shoreline like rows of quill pens are the folded sails of the ships: container rafts, small private craft, or medium-size coastal transport. I have to squint from the diamond-dazzle of the solar powered sails in the sun.
Out of the shipping lanes, out to sea, 35 giant wind turbines gracefully turn, looking like robots dancing Swan Lake. Dead in front of us, in layers of track, one above the other is the Lagos Harbour Rail Station with high-speed electric trains departing for Abuja, Kano, Ibadan, Warri, Abeokuta, Makurdi, Jos, Yola, and Sokoto and beyond those to Benin, Ghana, all along the coast.
The architecture of Lagos is famous. Looking back to the islands, I can see a tower that looks like two giant beer cans one on top of the other: one says ‘Star’, one says ‘Gulder’. Another building is a series of platforms with traditional vernacular buildings, circles of traditional structures, open to the sea air, with walkways and lift-shafts running between them. Even from this distance, I can see a woman with a traditional broom, sweeping one of those yards.
You’ve been selected for a mission to the moon. Which African author are you taking and why?
It has to be something that is so complex it requires reading and re-reading to get to the bottom of it, and that would shift and turn to something different with each reading. My favourite African novels might be ‘Sozaboy’ by Ken Saro-Wiwa and ‘Kintu’, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. But only one to mull over and read and read again, I would choose between – B Kojo Laing’s ‘Major Gentil and the Achimota Wars’ or ‘The Palm-Wine Drinkard’ by Amos Tutuola.
What invention do you think would change the lives of Africans today?
It doesn’t exist yet, but a cost effective roofing material that you could hammer to roofs like zinc or tin sheets but which didn’t conduct heat. The sun would hit the roofs but would not warm the house below, so it could keep cool in summer. And if it got cold, the heating wouldn’t conduct OUT through the roof either.
Two things you’re doing when not reading or writing?
Cooking food. The other is personal.
To what extent has African literature envisioned an African future?
It’s started to do so. Right now I think speculative fiction is more concerned with working with, thinking about, preserving African cultural pasts and ensuring these traditions continue into the future. The question shouldn’t be when does Lagos get to be New York? It shouldn’t be skyscrapers and air-cars just because Blade Runner has them (and the world-building in Blade Runner is pretty poor). If it’s a Pan-African future, how really did that happen politically? How will African futures be different – from the rest of the world and from each other? What technologies creating what kinds of social change? Each bit of thinking about the future will add to the library of possible African futures that writers can work with.
What book do you think best captures Afrofuturism?
I would correct that term to Africanfuturism and say ‘Who Fears Death’ by Nnedi Okorafor.
You wake up one morning to find that you’ve grown a pair of wings. What do you do?
Fly? Maybe dye the feathers impossible colours like pink and blue.
Name one book that made you think differently about the world.
They all do, in conversation with each other.
What is the most difficult part of your creative process?
Having something good to write about. Without the ideas, and that sense that your creativity has taken you over, all the technical skill and hard work might be for naught.
What is your African dream?
That thriving African publishers are publishing Africans who are writing for African audiences – and any validation from elsewhere comes AFTER success in Africa. That references, language, dialogue, descriptions are all geared for that audience. That African media prefer to show the African cover of a book rather than the American or British one.