On February 19th, my story “Mofongo Knows” will appear in the anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination (available for order here!) Mofongo is a super-science ape fallen on hard times, but the original inspiration for this story came from my firm belief that while the 21st Century will be all about China (and maybe India), the 22nd Century is going to be all about Africa. For all these discussions about representation (or lack thereof) of non-European characters that occur in sci-fi and fantasy fiction from time to time, if you care about the future you need to care about Africa, because Africa is getting ready to rise up in the Crane Stance and kick us all in the face.
I want to make one thing really clear: a homicidal super-science ape is not meant to be some kind of crude symbol forged in a creative writing workshop to represent Africa or Africans. But over the course of “Mofongo Knows” I tried to have the narrative make it clear that Africa is the future, and North America will soon become the past. Spoiler alert? Not really. I have eyes and I can see where the money’s going just as well as anyone else.
Money isn’t everything, but money doesn’t lie and the flow of money is like an arrow pointing to what’s important. Follow the money and you’ll see that China is definitely the present, and will be for the next 50 years, but Africa is the future. The future is in emerging markets, not played out, over-exploited markets like the United States and Europe. Wherever there is a tiny middle class that could be bigger, wherever there are resources still to be exploited (both human and mineral), wherever there are people who haven’t yet filled their houses with crap, wherever there are people who don’t own two cars, that place is where the future will happen. Americans have, for the most part, bought all the stuff they’re going to buy, and so have Europeans. Hungry companies need to start finding new places to do their selling, and they’ll have to change how they do business to sell things there. America changed the way business was done in the 19th century, and the early 20th. China is changing the way it’s done now. Africa will change how it’s done tomorrow.
It’s time to put away the boring old images we have of Africa as a war-torn, technologically backwards continent. That vision belongs to the past. Africa is changing in ways we don’t even know yet, and that’s what will shape the future. The next Facebook will come from China, but the Facebook after that will come from Africa. There won’t be an innovation that will change us the way the internet changed us for a long time to come, maybe 40 or 50 years, but when it comes, there’s a good chance it will come from Africa.
I’m saying Africa is the future, not naming one of its 54 countries, because the power of Africa will be regional. And as a region, its growing power is hard to dispute. Since 2000, six of the 10 fastest-growing countries in the world were in Africa, and Africa has grown faster than East Asia in eight of the 10 previous years. Foreign investments have jumped ten-fold in the past decade, it’s got the fastest-growing middle class, and trade between African countries and the rest of the world has jumped 200% since 2000. As markets become saturated in the West, more and more companies will have to start targeting Africa as its population doubles to 2 billion by 2050. Even more attractive, Africa’s median age is 20 (it’s 30 in Asia, and 40 in Europe). Young people are always the future.
There are still countries like Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, and the Sudan that are widly unstable, and have a long, long way to go. But other countries that were once written off are already turning around far faster than anyone thought possible. Ethiopia, synonymous with failure and famine in the 80′s is now the tenth-largest producer of livestock in the world and its economy will grow by 7.5% this year (China is expecting around 6% growth).
Mofongo hails from Ghana, which recently discovered offshore oil, and is the recipient of the seventh-largest number of private sector investments in Africa. Its GDP tripled in the last decade, a period that also saw infrastructure investments grow by 500%, mostly in telecom. And by telecom, I mean wireless. Many African countries, like India and China did, are skipping steps that America went through, such as building a massive landline communications infrastructure. Instead, they’re leaping right to wireless, which is far more resilient and way cheaper. Across Africa, mobile phone subscriptions have grown 20% per year, and in some countries mobile broadband, rather than home broadband, is the biggest way to deliver data.
The image of Africa as a technological backwater is being eroded as tech hubs, accelerators, and incubators, spring up across the continent (50 to date, with a new one opening every 2 weeks), transforming parts of the continent into a silicon savannah. Kenya is home to IBM’s first African research lab, and entrepreneurs are cutting through decades-old red tape obstacle courses that used to stifle innovation faster than anyone dreamed possible. Kenya got sick of pan-African meetings about bringing fiber optic to the continent, so it finally broke away and did a fiber optic deal on its own when its secretary of communications realized that more was being spent on hotel rooms and meetings to discuss the cable than it would cost to just go ahead and lay it. That was 6 years ago, and now Kenya boasts 1000 times the broadband connections it had in 2007. It has 18 million internet users today, whereas in 2007 it only had 3 million.
Africa is coming. It is the future. It’s got science fiction, a gonzo pulp fiction tradition, and a whole Afrofuturism movement. Isn’t it time we re-imagined our tired old images of Africa? Isn’t it time we stopped seeing it as a continent solely related to war, famine, poverty, and a lack of technology, and started seeing it as a continent in step with the future? Aren’t we tired of the same old stereotypes? Let’s cook up some new ones! After all, technology is becoming more and more open source, more and more portable, and more and more accessible, all traits that make it perfect for dissemination across Africa where there’s less physical infrastructure, and where cheap and mobile tech stands a better chance of market penetration.
If you care about the future, Africa’s where it’s at. You know who knows that to be true? Mofongo knows.