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The dazzling success of African science fiction

Africans are increasingly interested in science fiction. Literature, cinema, streaming… The continent relies on its own authors to give its credentials to African “Sci-Fi”.

"The africafantastika continues to thrive." Understand science fiction still has a bright future ahead of it in Africa. The observation, made by the literary and film critic Mark Bould and dating back to 2018, is still true today. At the time, Mark Bould highlighted the proliferation of literary and cinematographic works "Sci-Fi" created by African authors, directors and cartoonists. A trend that has grown in recent years. It is especially from 2008 that science fiction began to find its audience in Africa, to become one of the favorite genres of young Africans. What is this phenomenon due to?

While we could count, at the end of the 1990s, African works of science fiction on the fingers of one hand, the sector has literally exploded in recent times: hundreds of works written by Africans are published. every year since 2010. From the afro-futuristic horror and science fiction novel "Binti", by Nigerian Nnedimma Okorafor, to "Zoo City", by South African novelist Lauren Beukes, continental successes are now numerous. Lauren Beukes has won several international awards for her cyberpunk-inspired novel, which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Africa, but also in Europe.

And if “Sci-Fi” is so successful today, it is also partly thanks to a tool which, until a few years ago, was only science fiction in Africa: online sales. In South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria or Rwanda, e-commerce has enabled “Sci-Fi” to find its audience, assures Lauren Beukes. Industrialization and cultural initiatives, as well as the promotion of some bestsellers, have also made science fiction a growing success.

African science fiction, a genre apart

Beyond the general success of "Sci-Fi", the genre has recently become Africanized. African science fiction literature has borrowed the codes of "American short fiction", short American fictions, but also has its own specificities: African science fiction is indeed much more realistic, adding experience to the imaginary. This "speculative fiction" allows African readers to imagine the future, to get out of reality to escape. Without forgetting the specificities that make Africa. This “afroptimism”, which manifests itself in “Sci-Fi” literature, gives the genre all its spice. Enough to attract readers on the continent, but also diasporas and Afro-American descendants.

And in addition to quality, there is media promotion which has an impact on sales: African science fiction interests specialists, but also producers. Since 2014, Omenana, a pan-African fiction magazine, continues to recruit new readers. African “Sci-Fi” is even available on screens: in 2022, the novels “Binti” by Nnedimma Okorafor and “The Shining Girls” by Lauren Bukes will be adapted into television series. Since the success of “Black Panther” in 2018, audiences have become passionate about African science fiction, which skillfully blends fantasy and social issues, such as relations between Africa and the Western world. The kingdom featured in the film, Wakanda, would represent, according to critics, "Africa without Western colonialism".

Africans want their own science fiction

Ugandan filmmaker and writer Dilman Dila, for his part, believes that African science fiction is not inspired by the West. He considers that Africa has "oral traditions and rich mythological universes, as well as aspirations different from those of the West", which make it possible to avoid having to rely on works from Europe or the United States. “Certainly, some stories are inspired by popular Western films and books, we cannot ignore this influence, it would be hypocrisy,” he continues, before inviting readers to go beyond the impressions of the first pages of the novels. of "Sci-Fi" to see that African authors have created their own worlds, their own characters ... and their own future.

Dilman Dila made a career in African science fiction, he wrote several short story collections and produced numerous films. Thanks to donations from NGOs, his films have enjoyed great success on streaming platforms, despite sometimes limited budgets. In "Listening To Her Voice", we follow, in several African countries, the hero who discovers futuristic societies, in Egypt, Mali, Congo or Uganda. For the artist, Africans love science fiction. Their science fiction. “They don't end up in 'Captain America', 'Star Wars' or 'Spiderman', nothing more normal," says Dila. And when it comes to cinema and fiction, Africa can, according to him, count on a perfect mastery of new technologies.

But that's not all: according to academic Peter Maurits, if Africans want their own science fiction, it is also because the new generation "embraces the idea of ​​moving economic, scientific and cultural centers away from the West ”. In other words, Africans want to imagine their world of the future, not the one that the Americans or the former colonial powers tried to impose on them. The academic also assures us that the global financial crisis in 2008 made it possible to develop gender in Africa thanks to the “fall of world imperialism and the Western establishment in Africa”. Local authors were able to reclaim their continent, their culture and their history. And with the technological advances recorded by several countries on the continent, science fiction has a bright future ahead of it, especially as the continent continues to rejuvenate and urbanize.

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