Since this is the ‘crazy story ideas’ topic, let’s head to an area where precious few have gone before, and imagine — even less people have gone there — a prosperous future for it (or at least a future where things change for the better): Africa.
Often referred to a ‘the lost continent’. Or, to quote:
The only thing Africa has left is the future.
Marita Golden (1950 – ) / U.S. writer and teacher / A Woman’s Place.
First, let’s not see it as a ‘lost’ continent, and take hope (and lessons) from these newsbits:
- A Victory for democracy in Africa (from CNN).
- Women getting so fed up with their men’s (political) bickering in Kenia that they have started a ‘sex strike‘.
They say they want to avoid a repeat of the violence which convulsed the country after the late-2007 elections.
That dynamic ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and today “there’s a new generation of Africans who are now saying, ‘No — show us what you can deliver,’ ” says Farhan. “They are getting their message across. You find autocrats are reincarnating themselves as democrats. They are increasingly no longer in control. It’s really interesting. There’s a new mood sweeping Africa.”
- Or, as this 2008 end-of-year report on PRI.org indicates: while the bad news — which was most prominently featured — came from Zimbabwe and the Congo, this was, according to US amabassador Charles Stith: “It really is at the end of the day the tail wagging the dog … cause the numbers speak for themselves — you’ve got 16 countries with 650 million people out of 800 million, so the vast majority of people are in countries that are on track. The good news is that the numbers of states that are coming on-line, in terms of issues of governance and the economy, is increasing.”
- The World Championships Football of 2010 will be held in South Africa. This cannot be underestimated: football is, by far, the most popular sport in the world, and while its darker side (hooliganism) is well known, it also inspires hope and creates joy worldwide;
Next, let’s explore Africa’s potential:
- “Saharan sun to power European supergrid“, from the The Guardian almost a year ago (July 22, 2008; and I read the same news in a recent issue of New Scientist a few weeks ago, here is the same news on the Times online of March 15, 2009, so the idea isn’t quite that new);
- Africa’s (relative) lack of infrastructure can be an advantage, in a similar way as the Dialectics of progress (originally coined as “De wet van de remmende voorsprong” by Dutch historian Jan Romein in 1935):
- Thus, instead of large energy-generating plants with a huge power infrastructure and electricity grid, they can develop small local power plants based on solar, wind or water energy and biomass;
- Small, cheaply produced water purification units can supply clean water locally;
- In a similar manner, internet access can be done via WiFi (also no large cabling infrastructure needed): the mobile phone is already paving the way for this, as the number of the number of African mobile subscribers surpassed those in America already in May 2008;
- For transport, they can use/develop zeppelins instead of using planes, trains & automobiles (each of which need, again, a huge infrastructure: a zeppelin needs no rail, road or runways, and is energy efficient);
- Finally,the equator runs through Africa, so it’s a prime location for a space elevator base;
Obviously, there are enormous obstacles to overcome, political, cultural, sociological and technological. The challenges are huge, but I like to think that a lot of people tend to underestimate the possibility of change. A few examples: in the early eighties nobody — me included — would have believed that the Iron Curtain would come down, peacefully, in 1991. Similarly (see the Tutu quote below),
Improbable as it is, unlikely as it is, we are being set up as a beacon of hope for the world.
Desmond Tutu (1931 – ) / South African clergyman and civil rights activist / The Times (London).
hardly anybody would have believed that apartheid (one of the the best-known and ugliest Dutch words) would come to an end, starting with the release of Nelson Mandela in February 11, 1990, and ending — after several years of negotiations — with the election in 1994.
Finally, until very recently, nobody would have believed that the US would elect a black president (even if it took eight years of grandiose misgovernment and the biggest economic crisis since 1929 to help pave the way: sometimes, unfortunately, things need to get worse — even much worse — before they get better). So, in that vein:
One shouldn’t offer hope cheaply.
Ben Okri (1959 – ) / Nigerian novelist, short-story writer, and poet, 1992.
Isn’t SF about imagining the (seemingly) impossible? Write about an Africa that changes for the better (actually, I know about one writer who already does: but I swear I already had written most of this post before we talked about this at EasterCon), and send it my way.
When hope dies, what else lives?
Ama Ata Aidoo (1942 – ) / Ghanaian writer / Our Sister Killjoy, or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint.
UPDATE: well, I’ll be darned! The moment I post this, this news arrives: Africans Must Travel to the Moon. Although Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s reasons —
“The Americans have gone to the moon. And the Russians. The Chinese and Indians will go there soon. Africans are the only ones who are stuck here,” Museveni said, addressing a meeting of the Uganda Law Society in Entebbe.
“We must also go there and say: ‘What are you people doing up here?’.”
— may sound a bit awkward, they do resonate, in a local, African version, my notion of how building a space elevator might help solve Earth-based problems:
“Uganda alone cannot go to the moon. We are too small. But East Africa united can. That is what East African integration is all about,” he said. “Then we can say to the Americans: ‘What are you doing here all alone?’.”
Museveni has campaigned — very vocally — for a common East African economic and political zone. Hey, SF writers: take this cue from today before the near future runs away from you!
UPDATE 2: I don’t know how I missed this, but here are some links and remarks about Africa’s so-called ‘Cheetah generation’. So, a bit late to the game (brought to my attention via ‘Ondernemen 2.0, nu ook in Afrika‘ [“Entrepreneurship 2.0, now also in Africa”] in de Volkskrant), I think a good place to start is Rob Salkowitz’s article on Internet Evolution “Africa’s ‘Cheetah Generation’ Rises on the Net“.
A few salient points:
- Since 2006, Africa has been gaining new Internet connections faster than any other region — a curve that’s only expected to steepen with the widespread deployment of mobile Web and wireless satellite-based services. Costs continue to fall, extending access further and further down the economic pyramid.
- Nearly 45 percent of a total population of 160 million Nigerians is under the age of 15, for example. In The Economist‘s “Ageing” index, which measures the ratio of under-15s to over-60s in country populations, 14 of the 15 youngest countries in the world are African.
- Now, the rapid spread of information and communication technology (ICT) and a more entrepreneurial approach to the problems of bottom-of-the-pyramid populations is turning the 20th century liability of “too many mouths to feed” into the 21st century asset of “millions of minds at work.”
Compare this with another salient point made by Vijay Mahajan at This Is Africa in his ‘Travels with the Cheetah Generation‘ article (and keep in mind that Mahajan is a Professor of Marketing, so basically he’s looking at Africa as a big business opportunity, not as a continent that needs aid):
It would come as a surprise to many — it did to me — that Africa’s economic strength is greater than India’s, which has a comparable population. If Africa were a single country, according to World Bank data, it would have had $978bn in total gross nation income in 2006. This places it ahead of all the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) except China. Africa has greater wealth than most think.
At the time of this update, SHINE has been released and contains two stories set in Africa (which are, alas, not by African authors. If I can do a follow-up, this is one thing I certainly hope to correct): “Sustainable Development” by Paula R. Stiles and “Paul Kishosha’s Children” by Ken Edgett. The former sees hope for Africa’s future beginning on a small scale, the latter even sees it become a leading continent in the future. Which ties in with Alastair Reynolds (also a SHINE contributor)’s planned 11K trilogy where Africa also becomes the leading continent in the future.
Looking at the Cheetah Generation and various other developments, that assumption may not be as far-fetched as many of you probably think. To illustrate that, another quote from Mahajan’s article:
Another statistic about Africa relates to the diaspora. With perhaps 100 million members around the globe, the diaspora is investing billions of dollars annually on the continent. And unlike the recent past, Africans living abroad are more likely to return home to lead and create new businesses. They are helping to propel Africa’s rise.
As it is, the eponymous Paul Kishosha in Ken Edgett’s story is an African living abroad who returns home and creates — if not a new business — something new and inspiring, indeed.