Afrofuturism and Africa’s Alternate History

Image depicting an Afrofuturistic Africa

Africa’s rich history and vibrant cultures provide a treasure trove of inspiration, despite all that the continent has suffered. But what if we looked not just to the past, but also the future? 

The term “Afrofuturism” was coined in 1994 to mean combining science-fiction, history and fantasy to explore the African experience and connect those from the black diaspora with their forgotten African ancestry.

Afrofuturism reimagines a future rooted in African traditions and knowledge; and a world where African-descended peoples and their cultures play a central role in the creation of that world.

When I was younger and growing up in Nigeria, my dad would tell us stories of creation that involved Obatala and Oduduwa and the chicken that spread sand over the waters to create the land we walk on today. I thought it was fascinating and imaginative that the Yoruba people believe this to be true. There are thousands of such creation theories around the world.

Just like those ancient stories, Afrofuturism uses the power of imagination to reimagine our existence. It dares to see ourselves (Africans) in spaces and times that were once thought unreachable. 

In 2018, Marvel released the blockbuster Black Panther and the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which attempted to reimagine the world through fiction and fantasy. From flying cars to smart houses, shining utopias to interstellar worlds, we had a chance to imagine what our societies would look like if—women were equal members of society—if Africa had access to its own technology and leveraged it for its development—and much more, we were able to see ourselves (Africans) at the centre of a story or should I say what Africa would have become had it not been conquered by colonial forces. 

Today, there are many ways to reimagine the future of Africa—politics, fashion, film, art, music, trade, and more. For example, through initiatives like the AU Agenda 2063 and the global secular vision of the ‘Africa we want’, the African Union is reimagining Africa as a cohesive, innovative, and globally influential continent. Because, in the grand scheme of things, Africa is all that and more.

Unfortunately, especially in America, visions of Africa are always of people in need of saving. Whereas, saviours have come from Africa repeatedly, like the Nigerian inventor Silas Adekunle, who created MekaMon, the world’s first intelligent gaming robot in 2018.

However revolutionary it seems, African leadership and governance can be more of what we hope than we currently see. 

Who cursed us?

I belong to a WhatsApp group of journalists from across the continent, and this question came up once during a discussion about how Africans, including the richest man in Africa, need more than 35 visas to travel around the continent—far more than a European would need to move around on the same African continent.

I had posed a similar question more subtly four years ago in an article titled “Police Brutality: The Black Man’s Struggle Against Racism in America.

The article read:

“Who did this to us?”

“Answer: Colonial white people, through the slave trade. They forced men out of their homes and tried to erode the African culture, selling us the idea that we are savages in our own homes.” 

Sadly, we believed them.

Achieving Equitable Societies Through Afrofuturism

For far too long, African stories have been told through a colonial lens, which distorted our past and overshadowed our contributions to global civilization. However, now we have a chance to revisit these stories and rewrite them in a way that showcases the brilliance and resilience of our ancestors whilst projecting a future where African innovation and leadership are central.

Afrofuturism is a tool Africa doesn’t even know she needs yet. Otherwise, we’ll be riding the wave of speculative fiction and futuristic concepts to critique current inequities, envision more equitable societies, and inspire real-world activism and policy changes. 

Imagine it as a bridge between creative expression and practical action for the world’s youngest population—allowing them to dream beyond the limitations imposed by historical and present-day challenges. Because, indeed, Africans can be the architects of their own new reality.