In 1949, British author George Orwell wrote 1984, a dystopian novel in which he envisioned the world as it would be. Big Brother, a fictional leader of one of the three countries formed after a nuclear war, institutes a constant surveillance on his people through telescreens. Citizens of the country, Oceania, were often reminded: Big Brother is watching you.
The nuclear war may not have been fought by 1984 as Orwell imagined, but although there was no closed circuit televisions (CCTV) in his day, Orwell’s idea of surveillance is real today, half a century later. Have we not heard of the ever present two-way surveillance through mobile phones, the Internet and other devices like CCTV? And, remember the Big Brother reality show with the all-seeing eye of Big Brother?
Leonardo da Vinci, an Italian artist and master of several sciences, lived between 1452 and 1519, long before men learned how to fly. Yet, he drew an ‘aerial screw’ which inspired later engineers to develop the helicopter. Da Vinci is also known to have drawn an armoured vehicle, conceptually invented the use of solar power and so much more.
There is so much power in imagination and future realities, says publisher Shadreck Chikoti. With Imagine Africa 500, published by his co-founded Pan African Publishers (PAP), 15 African authors write about what they perceive Africa to be in the next 500 years.
“We used speculative fiction for the writers to stretch their imagination. With poverty and numerous other problems, it is difficult to perceive the future. But if we do not look into the future, we are lost,” says Chikoti.
The book, published last year will be introduced in Malawi with a reading at Kwa Haraba in Blantyre on June 19 before a launch at the Ake Arts Festival in Nigeria in August. It is on the African studies list at the University of Michigan in the United States of America (USA).
It features five Malawian writers Muthi Nhlema, Aubrey Chinguwo, Hagai Magai, Tuntufye Simwimba and Tiseke Chilima, who brush shoulders with 2011 Caine Prize nominee Lauri Kubuitsile of Botswana and other writers from Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa. It was edited by Billy Kahora, editor of the prestigious African literature magazine Kwaani, who selected the stories alongside Chikoti and PAP co-founder Trine Andersen.
“Imagine Africa 500 starts the discourse on our present situation and where we are setting the pace for debate. It pleases me there are Malawian writers in the anthology, this is the platform for us to take our writing on the international scene, since we have already got customers in the Netherlands, India and South Africa,” said Chikoti, whose futuristic novel, Azotus Kingdom won him the Mawu/FMB Peer Gynt Award.
The short stories in Imagine Africa 500 gripping in their imaginative narratives, take you into a mixed African future of hope side-by-side with a lost Africa. It is an anthology that tells of a man who marries a robot, stories of political struggles, stories that question relationships and how scary or bright the future for Africa is.
One of the most recurrent themes is a united Africa. For instance, Ugandan Musinguzi Ray Robert tells the story of the ‘42nd president of the United African States (UAS)’ in Unexpected Dawn. “On June 23, the UAS would be celebrating 308 years of union,” he writes, envisioning a continent with the cleanest water and providing the only hope of life for billions of the earth’s inhabitants.
In Closer to the Sun, a short story telling of the annihilation of the world population from 112 billion to three, Aubrey Chinguwo sets the story in ‘Uganda, the capital city of Africa’ and one character declares: “I just made Africa one nation.”
The issue resurfaces in Tisekele Chilima’s story Women are in Venus, where ‘people’ from Mars, Venus and Earth can live together and even inter-marry. Hers is a dream of an United Countries of Africa. Chilima sets her story in Tilapia Harbour, possibly the name Mangochi will bear then, a beautiful city where Martans, Venusians and Terrans walk on ‘lit-up walkways’ with the aroma of ‘flame-grilled chambo’.
For her, chambo will not be extinct in 500. For Muthi Nhlema, some animals will be extinct in 500. With the issue of climate change dominating his narrative, Muthi envisions a time when butterflies will exist only in fairytale. If at all one will exist, it will be an ugly mutant appearing in the worst ugly flooding scene.
Interestingly, in One Wit’ this Place Nhlema brings out a new language. Although he writes the whole story in the Queen’s English, his direct dialogues are in a corruption of English, pidgin English, West African dialects and his own imagined words. For instance, at one point, he writes: “Babi? Talk to me, I beg… Howse can I prepare you fa this world the way it bi?”
In an interview, Nhlema said he created the language as that is one thing that may evolve in the next 500. “I feel Malawian culture will be heavily influenced by west African notions. This kind of futuristic type of writing is a growing movement in fiction. As a Malawian writer on the anthology, I feel this has opened another door to get our works into the world,” said Nhlema.
Citing the example of Ekari Mbvundula, who is in the finals of a Pan-African writing competition, The Writer Competition, Nhlema says Malawi has writers who can put the country on the map. “All we need is the kind of support and platform offered by Chikoti. There is hunger out there for writing and our country has the capability to take writing further,” he said.
According to Bertan Salim, programme coordinator for the Prince Claus Fund, the fund that supported the project, as it is an excellent cultural and artistic initiative for positive social change.
“We hope that Imagine Africa 500 offers readers in Africa and beyond new perspectives on possible truths transcending one’s individual point of view,” says Salim.