What does it really mean to say that we live in a fast-changing world? The meaning of this well-worn phrase seems to have narrowed greatly over time to focus mainly on economic development while glossing over the many social implications of technological progress. The world has only just begun to grasp the importance of this aspect of development early in the 21st century, and there is so much more we can discover by paying attention to the critical new developments that are occurring all around us.
The sakawa phenomenon is one example that hits close to home, particularly if you live in West Africa, where the practice is known by several different names. The true meaning of the word is unclear to me, but I first encountered the term in reference to certain types of rituals performed by traditional priests with the specific intention of granting obscene wealth to the seeker. As a rule, the wealth comes at the cost of an early death along with a similarly prohibitive bill, livestock and alcohol inclusive. The practice has undergone a rapid transformation over the past few years, having been cut out from the past somehow and pasted into the future, in a unique fusion between high technology and centuries-old tradition.
The cyber-crime epidemic in West Africa has been the main driver of this change, luring untold thousands of young men and women to taking the fastest route out of the poverty trap. Despite the fact that these youth are growing increasingly sophisticated in their schemes, a significant number of them seem to be turning to traditional belief as a means to guarantee a high rate of success. Those who engage in this practice, dubbed sakawa boys, employ the services of traditional priests with the purpose of supernaturally enforcing the co-operation of their ‘clients;’ the potential victims of their online scams.
Sakawa boys have managed to hack Africa’s natural mystic; redefine her unique cosmology, and twist it to suit their purposes. As destructive as their activities are, we still can learn from this fascinating illustration the way in which cultural evolution occurs over time, mediated by technology, in constant exchange with the rest of the world, growing ever more nuanced and intricate with each step forward. I expect to see many more of such interactions between culture and technology in the near future, and I’m sure that if we pay more attention to such phenomena we will be better able to navigate through the turbulent waters of our near future.
This article was originally published in the December 2010 edition of DUST Magazine. It’s just a thought to keep in mind for now, but I plan to deal further with the sakawa phenomenon in the near future.
To say that I am currently going through a difficult time would be an understatement. I spent the first quarter of this year juggling the obscene demands of my university with my characteristically turbulent personal life, and just when I thought things couldn’t get much worse, I lost my father to a prolonged illness. I’m still in the process of adjusting to this new reality without my long-time mentor and commander-in-chief, but if anything, he taught me to be strong and defiant in the face of adversity, and I have also been fortunate to receive a great deal of support from many admirable people.
My father was a humble man with big dreams and grand ideals who succeeded in infecting me with that same bug. While I will always miss him, it’s obvious to me that I must do everything I can to make up for his absence, so that the course of history may ultimately be improved in spite of this tragedy. And while my life will never be the same, I still find solace in that the future remains as bright as ever, due in no small part to his contribution in my life. I now work with a heightened sense of duty and urgency; for all that I am, I owe to him, and everything that I do from this point onward must exceed even his grandest aspirations. In this regard, I ask you all to fasten your seat belts and hang on for the ride of the century.
A new year has arrived, and the world is on the brink of utter chaos. Heralded by bomb blasts in Nigeria, this new year sees the Ivory Coast caught in the grips of a post-election crisis with no end in sight, and a new nation due to born from the troubled womb of Sudan.
The picture isn’t any less bleak around the world, with the West having to retake a hard course in economics, Wikileaks publicly disrobing decades of international diplomacy, and the war on terrorism fuelling the rise of fundamentalism.
What have we learned from all this besides the fact that diplomats lie regularly to our faces, dictators don’t like to lose elections, and the school of hard knocks has an exceptionally bad macroenomics program?
Precious little, but there is still a lot we can be happy about. We can look forward to another year of ground-breaking scientific discoveries, the next steps in the evolution of personal computing, or the very thought of being at the frontier of a brave new world.
I’m happy to finally be on the home stretch of writing my novel; to have the finish line so clearly within sight. After twenty months of development, its more than a relief. With any luck, the world will still be there when I start looking for a publisher.
I’ve been underground for some time thanks to inhumane levels of schoolwork, but I’m back to keep this blog grinding through Christmas. At the moment, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been featured in the December edition of DUST, a free magazine based in Accra. An acronym for Discover Urban Style and Trend, DUST celebrates urban life in Accra and documents the many flavors of culture that thrive in this city.
As well as publishing my short story, Virus, the magazine also contains an article I wrote called Sakawa Boys: Hacking the Natural Mystic, which touches on the confluence between cyber-culture and black magic here in Accra. I intend to further explore the issue on this blog in the near-future, but for now you can have a teaser from the online version of the magazine.
You can find the December 2010 edition of DUST here: http://scr.bi/hPdoMi
In a streak of luck dating back to my radio appearance in September, I received an invitation from African Writing Magazine to submit an article as a guest blogger on their website. The article is titled ‘Fast-Forward: The Future of Science Fiction in Africa.’ Here’s an excerpt:
Think about the future, just for a moment. I want you to envision what life might be like on this planet in about fifty years from now. Even if you aren’t a fan of science fiction, you might conjure up images of grand societies with laser weapons and jet packs, of course. But in that same future, allow your mind to travel to Africa. What do you see? Can you imagine what life might be like for someone living on the streets of Nairobi, Brazzaville, or Johannesburg fifty years from now? You’ll probably find that it’s not very easy to imagine Africa in the distant future, simply because there isn’t enough African science and speculative fiction to fuel the imagination. The genre has never gained a major following among African readers for good reason; the widely optimistic view of technological progress underlying traditional science fiction simply doesn’t resonate with much of the experience on the continent.