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?
I see queues of people and cars, rigorously separated into lanes of wealth and religious, ethnic, professional, family affiliations—status and identity determining how fast each can exit the airport grounds into the city.
You’ve been selected for a mission to the moon. Which African author are you taking and why?
Hawa Jande Golakai (The Lazarus Effect, The Score, Fugee) would be the best company on a moon mission. She’s wickedly funny, incredibly sage, and a trained immunologist. She wouldn’t take it all so seriously, nor would she try to be a hero for the sake of a killer selfie. She’d get on with the work at hand; helping direct the mission while sharing hmm–worthy insights and quips to make us kwakwakwa along the way.
What invention do you think would change the lives of Africans today?
An instantly self-cleaning, personal, portable toilet cum rubbish bin would change everything. The handbag/backpack-sized receptacle (designed by a cutting edge African brand, perhaps in partnership with Nike) would enable citizens to “go” anywhere, no matter where they go, without exposing fellow countrymen and women to roadside and residential urination sightings, abandoned fecal matter, sewage, and other wastes. It would help reduce the population of flies and other opportunistic pests, alleviate hovering stenches, and control diseases related to unsanitary disposal of waste for a healthier populace and a cleaner environment. It would launch just before the African Cup of Nations.
Two things you’re doing when not reading or writing?
When I’m not writing or reading, I’m posting to Instagram or liking something on Instagram. (Insert Face Palm and Shrug emojis.)
To what extent has African literature envisioned an African future?
The African literature of the last four decades has largely been preoccupied with the colonial past, probably because, in part, the legacy of imperialism still impacts contemporary life on the continent in so many ways. The currency of our former occupiers remains the standard for global business dealings even as our economies maintain linkages with them that are mostly to our disadvantage. Many of the wealthiest and best-organised neighbourhoods in African cities are enclaves the colonial governments built to enjoy European comforts while they were resident. Likewise, international schools are among parents’ most sought after options for children. When it comes to literature, the fact that the hubs of international publishing are currently in London and New York affects access and the kinds of stories that break through.
This preoccupation with the past is important because we need to wrestle with the influences we have absorbed, and we need to overcome those aspects that cast us as inferior. Confronting history helps us envision and guard a better future. But I would like to see more literature set in/about Africa that looks even further back, to the time before the colonisers; when Mansa Musa was the wealthiest man on the planet, for example, or when Songhai and Mali and Ghana were empires. I think understanding who we were before colonialism, and how we lost ourselves is critical to envisioning a future that is at once African and inevitably global.
Interestingly, we are at a very similar moment in history as we were when Europe embarked on their scramble and petition for Africa in the 1800s: Western economies are contracting and financial opportunities abound on the continent for those with capital and skills to invest. What will the future look like now that our eyes are opened to what it could be if we allow history to repeat itself?
What book do you think best captures Afrofuturism?
I’m yet to read Afrofuturism widely enough to make a recommendation, so I’ll subvert the question a bit by referring a digital fashion lookbook. I love the speculative micro-scenes Wale Oyejide wrote of Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi for the ‘2018 A.D.’ collection of his line, Ikire Jones. His imagining of a Future Africa that finally benefits from her resource wealth, as well as the shift in African consciousness this will require, intrigued and inspired me. It’s a progressive way to present our stories, beyond traditional tomes and screens, which I believe is the way forward for literature.
You wake up one morning to find that you’ve grown a pair of wings. What do you do?
I would cut out wing-size holes in my clothes, and fly.
Name one book that made you think differently about the world.
‘White Oleander’ by Janet Fitch changed my view of the world. It’s silly to think now that before I read this book I bought into the storyline that White people had universally idyllic lives—especially childhoods. Though I’m well aware that most haven’t experienced the abuse and trauma the main characters in ‘White Oleander’ survived through either, this novel made me understand that, contrary to racial, class, and national stereotypes, every human being experiences and is vulnerable to suffering and pain.
What is the most difficult part of your creative process?
The hardest part of my creative process is surrendering to the shape it will take. My process has been different with each project. Initially, I found it disconcerting that I couldn’t just ‘plug and play’ or follow Formula 1B to completion. Now, I am coming to accept that each creation changes me even as I am changing with age, growth, and experience—so of course my process would morph every time I begin something new.
What is your African dream?
I dream of a transportation system that makes intra-continental travel fast, easy, safe, and cheap.