After an exceptionally long break, I’m glad to announce that the AfroCyberPunk blog is finally back in session with a totally brand new and exciting mission! When I published my very first post on the AfroCyberPunk blog some four years ago, my intention was to add a new perspective to the existing discussion on African science fiction at the time, by highlighting the relevance of cyberpunk themes in the reality of everyday life in Africa. I had just started writing my own cyberpunk novel around then and was beginning to notice the parallels between the Gibson-esque high-tech dystopian setting and the Africa in which I lived; the uneven patchwork of technological advancement permeating the entire spectrum of society; the booming industry of cyber-crime and its assimilation of traditional African mythology; the rapidly expanding gap between obscene wealth and abject poverty, symbolized by jarring contrasts such as multi-million-dollar high-rise apartments towering above oceans of shantytowns.

This sort of imagery is what first inspired me to publish this blog, however, my main interest has always been to explore the underlying factors driving these rapid changes in Africa, and to imagine what effects they are likely to have in the near and distant future. And so I’ve decided to expand the focus of this blog beyond science fiction and cyberpunk exclusively to a much broader discussion of African futurism. This may include but isn’t limited to areas like arts, culture, technology, fashion, music, design and innovation, business and commmerce, etc. The goal is to incorporate and examine past and contemporary representations of Afrofuturism and use these as the basis for a critical dialogue about the future of Africa.

To quote the newly updated About page, “the AfroCyberPunk blog is dedicated to exploring the future of Africa in every way possible; by examining artistic expressions of Afrofuturism in science and speculative fiction across various forms of media, relevant news and current events about ongoing socioeconomic, political, and technological developments, as well as academic discourses on issues and trends concerning the future of this incredibly diverse continent. As Africa enters a new era of accelerated development, this blog aims to create a unique conceptual space in which to explore the various scenarios we are likely to encounter in the near and distant future, and to imagine how we might begin to address the enormous challenges and incredible opportunities that may soon become reality.”

I’m really excited to finally begin this new journey for the blog, which has actually been on my mind for about a year now. There were a number of reasons for the slump in activity over this period, but most of all I had to concentrate on successfully completing my applied project dissertation, which was an incredibly exhausting(!!!) but equally fulfilling experience which has resulted in the beginning of an exciting new venture into social entrepreneurship. I’ll go into more detail on this in later posts, as it’s quite relevant to the new focus on futurism. From now onwards, I should have enough time to concentrate my full attention on the blog and the completion of my (still-in-progress) novel, unless of course some horrendously improbable fate should happen to befall me, like an X-Files-style extra-terrestrial cattle rustling and abduction scenario, or a freak bedroom accident involving a time-traveling Boeing jet engine (and a creepy dude in a bunny suit), or worse – procrastination. But let’s look on the bright side, shall we?

It’s only right that I take this opportunity to thank everyone who has played a part in spreading the word about AfroCyberPunk and supporting my efforts over the years. The blog could not have survived this long without the championing efforts of Johnny Laird and Cheryl Morgan, the timely promotion on Lavie Tidhar’s World SF Blog, the encouragement I received from veteran African SF authors like Ivor Hartmann and Nnedi Okorafor, the much-appreciated recogition from Bruce Sterling and exposure from Warren Ellis, my participation in the BBC radio documentary on African SF thanks to the show’s producer, Deborah Basckin, my continued support in hosting from a kind philanthropist who wishes to remain unnamed, the positive and critical feedback from readers, and all those who have published my work and referenced my ideas in articles, papers, and presentations, and many others who I cannot mention now but will do my best to acknowledge in due time.

So what next, you ask?  In my next post, we’ll immediately dive right into this Afrofuturism business with a review of a new novel called ‘Nigerians in Space,’ a mystery/thriller novel by Nigerian writer Deji Olukotun. Afterwards, we might discuss some of the very interesting and highly relevant projects which I’m currently involved in, with the aim of connecting the dots between technological innovation,  social entrepreneurship and their long-term implications for the continent. And finally, we’ll scan the surrounding star-systems for gravitational readings, plot our trajectory into the navigator, and floor the throttle of the hyperspace drive as we blast off into the farthest reaches of space and time on this epic journey into the future of Africa.

Cover image obtained & modified from: http://www.sanguinesoul.com/2010/03/episode-51-daft-in-africa-ft-proof-and-freddy-anzures/

Here’s an adaptation of my short story ‘Virus,’ created by Bunmi Oloruntoba of 3bute.com, ‘a mashable anthology of African modernity.’ The result is an impressive piece of hyperfiction; a three-page comic strip layered with several links to relevant multimedia from around the web:

You can view the full 3bute on the Wayback Machine

While you’re up there, you can also check out previous 3butes created from the works of other African writers and bloggers. This is an excellent example of how Africa promises to defy traditional boundaries and radically re-define herself to the rest of the world. As always, I invite you all to stay tuned.

NB: Update on the novel publication process coming soon.

My recent visit to London was far too short, but I was able lucky enough to catch a special screening at the British Library of the Pumzi movie, a breakthrough African sci-fi film — with strong echoes of Logan’s Run — that I particularly enjoyed. It was a rare to opportunity for dialogue with the director herself, Wanuri Kahiu as well as superwoman Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, celebrated Nigerian-born astronomer. Also represented in the audience were the ubiquitous FOKN Bois, an avante-garde Ghanaian hip-hop duo, perhaps best described as ‘strict sub-Saharan psychomental.’ And of course, afropolitan guru and DJ, Kobby Graham, DUST Magazine editor and ‘funky professor’ at  Ashesi University, wasn’t too far from the scene. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer for the Pumzi movie:

Sc-Fi film about futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III –The Water War. Nature is extinct. The outside is dead. Asha lives and works as a museum curator in one of the indoor communities set up by the Maitu Council. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she plants an old seed in it and the seed starts to germinate instantly. Asha appeals to the Council to grant her permission to investigate the possibility of life on the outside but the Council denies her exit visa. Asha breaks out of the inside community to go into the dead and derelict outside to plant the growing seedling and possibly find life on the outside.

Writing a novel is like watching a tree grow in real-time. It can be a genuinely wholesome and fulfilling experience, but it’s mostly a slow and agonizingly painful process, especially after you’ve come to love the little world you’ve created and can’t wait to share it with the big one. This month marks exactly two years since I got an itch to write a sci-fi novel, and even though I’m still months away from the finish line, at the current stage of development, I’ve never been so close. The next few months should mark the final stage of this arduous journey. In the meantime, I happen to be a firm believer in shameless self-promotion, so in this blog post I’ll be dropping a few hints of what you can expect from the upcoming novel.

Which shall henceforth be known as Accra.

Unless my publisher comes up with some bright ideas. But I’ve recently started to consider taking the path less traveled–that of self-publishing. Since my father’s untimely passing just over two months ago, I’ve begun to have the sneaking suspicion that life may in fact be too short to sit around waiting for some benevolent cartel to lend me a printing press, when technology empowers me now more than ever to circumvent that quaint bit of bureaucracy. I know there’s a much higher commercial risk involved in self-publishing, but it seems more in tune with my personal values to continually adopt emerging technologies and evolve beyond outdated models. Either way, I’ll be giving the idea a lot of thought in the coming months.

And now, for a brief description of the novel.

Accra is a speculative fiction novel set in the year 2057 AD, at a time when neuroscience has reverse-engineered the brain to uncover the inner workings of the human mind. Two-thirds of the world’s population have been implanted with biocores–organic microcomputers that interface between the brain and cyberspace, linking billions of people worldwide to the wireless Grid.  The novel is a threefold narrative that weaves together the stories of a desert soldier, a data thief, and a cyber-crime investigator who are thrust into the heart of a dark conspiracy in one turbulent night on the fast-paced, hi-tech streets of Accra.

And a similarly brief synopsis.

A teenage girl leaves her home in a coastal village to find work in the city of Accra, but after months of failing to find employment she is led into the dangerous world of cyber-crime, where her life quickly begins to spiral out of control. A retired cyber-crime investigator is called in by the Accra Police Force to deal with a cyber-terrorist threat, but the series of inexplicable occurrences that follow lead him to the blood-stained trail of a sinister plot in the corridors of power. These two stories are inextricably linked with a third; the gradually unfolding memories of a mercenary soldier, narrating a life of struggle and oppression in the heart of the Green Sahara; a story which culminates in a star-cross’d quest for freedom and justice, where all roads lead to the city of Accra.

A traditional cyberpunk dish prepared with African spices and served by the fireside.

Accra is equal parts mystery, thriller, and adventure, corresponding roughly to each protagonist’s storyline. The Sahara Desert will be prominently featured in the novel, incorporating some minor techno-ecological adjustments, as you might  imagine. Naturally, the Accra metropolis will be the setting for the most part of the novel. My love for Africa and it’s unique heritage will be conspicuously evident on a page or two, but my vision of a future Africa is by no means boiled down to guns and roses. Accra is an earnest attempt to paint a plausible and comprehensive near-future scenario for the continent as a whole, and that means working out the nitty-gritty implications of diverse existing trends into the future and documenting the results; be they good, bad, or ugly.

About the writing process and final product.

Most of the time I have spent on this novel has gone into developing the story world, as well as the plot and narrative structure, which form the centerpiece of the story. It should be complex and labyrinthine enough to make your head spin, but simple enough to make you go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the end. It should ultimately leave you with more questions than answers, or conversely, with more answers than questions. Expect lots of action, drama, hard science, black magic, dark romance, and transhumanist philosophical quandaries, but above all, expect the unexpected.

Whatever that means.

I hope I haven’t given away too much, or conversely, that I haven’t been too cryptic. There’s a lot more that I haven’t said or even hinted at, but like any writer who’s worth his ink, I’d do well to save the best for last. Finally, I have a serious question for anyone reading this: Would you advise me to search for a traditional, prestigious paperback publisher, or be a cowboy and self-publish online? I’m not trying to skew the results, but the latter would mean the novel being available by the end of this year.

Yours Truly,

AfroCyberPunk

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.

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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.