African sci-fi features all manner of weird and outlandish things, from crime-fighting robots to technological dystopias. But could they be closer to predicting the future than they realise?
Since the birth of the science fiction genre in the early 19th century, Africans have been conspicuously absent from sci-fi films, novels and comics. However, in recent years, African science fiction has been quietly flourishing, and a small but growing coterie believes this sub-genre not only reflects recent achievements in African technology but could predict or shape future inventions.
"There has always been a symbiotic relationship between science fiction and technological innovation," says Jonathan Dotse, a prominent Ghana-based blogger on African science fiction, who is working on his first sci-fi novel.
Dotse points out that sci-fi in the West developed in response to the rapid rate of technological progress and believes technological development in Africa could provoke a similar surge.
"Science fiction can raise awareness in Africa of the huge potential of indigenous innovation to improve living standards," he says. "Our nations will need to significantly increase their investment into the institutions and technological infrastructure required to create and sustain this innovation. Such costly and long-term initiatives won't easily gain public support without a public discourse that takes the long view of their own societal development. This is exactly sort of discourse that science fiction provokes, and can help to shape within African societies."
Dotse emphasises that science fiction is highly relevant to Africa, despite the prevailing belief that it is a Western genre. "Nnedi Okorafor and Lauren Beukes, two of the most prominent African science fiction writers, build their stories around ideas which express the intricacies and artefacts of their respective cultural backgrounds and merge them seamlessly with speculative concepts," he says.
Okorafor, a Nigerian sci-fi writer, agrees that she is driven by a desire to explore possible African futures on Africa's own terms.
"I found a lot of Western science fiction to be quite insular and self-absorbed," she says. "I started writing it because whenever I'd travel to Nigeria, I'd see Nigerians interacting and using technology in a way that was a little different than what I'd see in the West. I wasn't seeing anyone write about the continent of Africa as the modern place it is. I wasn't seeing...