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Imagine Africa 500 edited by Billy Kahora

Managing Editor's Note

The evidence on how art can impact society and influence positive change is overpowering. There are incalculable incidents in support of the above notion, and in an effort to contextualise the idea in an African setup we need not look further back than a few decades.

The year is 1988. Producer and impresario Tony Hollingsworth has just received bomb threats. His crime? He is organising a music concert due to take place in June at Wembley Stadium, London. The BBC has agreed to broadcast the concert, set to run for more than nine hours. This, alone, has angered 24 Conservative MPs who have put down a House of Commons motion criticising the BBC for giving "publicity to a movement that encourages the African National Congress in its terrorist activities".

But this event, titled The Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, goes on as planned, gathering musicians, actors, politicians, radio personalities and all kinds of celebrities in one place for a cause that will go down in history as one of the greatest protest events ever. This concert, this art, broadcast in more than 60 countries will influence the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.

And you ask: could this concert really influence the release of Mandela? Mere songs? Of course there were plays, novels, short stories, paintings, comics and various works of art whose impact, along that of the concert, contributed highly to the abolition of the apartheid regime in South Africa. This is the power of art.

I strongly believe that in this century art will continue to shape the affairs of our societies. And, as someone who is biased towards sci-fi, I believe that art reaches far into time, creating possibilities ahead of now. Leonard Da Vinci imagined the future hundreds of years before it came into being. Artists; writers have envisioned floating cities, robotic empires, artificial lives, and a take-over by machines. Science follows, tracking these thoughts, these possibilities, these dreams, approving or disapproving them. Art is an architectural model, while science is the actual building project. The power of art is in the imagination, while the power of science is in making those dreams material. In this century art will be as important as science.

It was this realisation that art can actually contribute to the discourse on Africa's future that birthed the initiative Imagine Africa 500.

In November 2014, we, at Pan African Publishers Ltd (PAP) and The Story Club (TSC - a club gathering anyone with an interest in literature and art in Malawi), hosted a writers' workshop in Lilongwe. Ten young Malawian writers gathered together and, led by Billy Kahora (editor at Kwani, Kenya), writers Beatrice Lamwaka, Jackee Batanda (Uganda) and Shadreck Chikoti (chief editor at PAP and founder of TSC), and Trine Andersen(Denmark), co-founder and director of PAP, developed skills in short story writing.

The last assignment for the young participants was to write a story for an anthology, keeping in mind the subject of Africa 500 years from now.

Apart from the Malawian stories, there was also a call for submission for writers across Africa, who ably contributed their thoughts about the continent's future.

We believe that this anthology will contribute African thoughts about futurism at the same time as showcasing some of the exciting voices emerging from the continent.

The stories in this anthology show some exciting prospects about Africa's future but some also show us our darkest nightmares and make us aware of roads not to take.

Abraham Lincoln said, "The best way to predict your future is to create it." Africa can only be as good as we imagine her. The Africa we have now is a mirror of our thinking. What will the future be?

Shadreck Chikoti

Managing Editor

IMAGINE AFRICA 500

 

REVIEWS

  • "Imagine Africa 500 is a smart and engaging addition to the growing number of anthologies of African sf, not quite as literary as Nerine Dorman's Terra Incognita, nor quite as pulpy as Ivor Hartmann's AfroSF collections. Billy Kahora, The Story Club and Pan African Publishers are to be congratulated for setting this all in motion, for their commitment to developing new writers, for their efforts to address the domination of African sf by South Africa and Nigeria – Imagine Africa 500 includes five authors from Malawi, four from Uganda and one from Botswana, as well as three Nigerians and two South Africans – and by male writers – two-fifths of the stories are by women, which is not parity but is heading in the right direction."

    – Mark Bould
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Foreword

The Prince Claus Fund, the Story Club, and Pan-African Publishers Ltd. are proud to support the Imagine Africa 500 initiative, a basis for critical reflection by some of Africa's leading writers and thinkers.

Their vision of the future of the African continent brings to life the concept of creating free space for expression. To paraphrase Stephen Embleton, one of the contributors to this publication who writes about Africa as the land of light: "She closed her eyes and imagined the Congo river seen from high above: the satellite images of a continent in the Earth's shadow [...] Emerging from a once dark continent, it was not sunlight or moonlight that was visible along those waters. It was the mass of energy generated by the metric tons of water pulsing through their vein, that African heart, lighting and nurturing the towns and cities along its banks, creating the Land of Light."

The articles and contributions in this publication show us that literature not only engages the reader, but also gives narrative to notions such as future, hope and longing. The collected impressions

and critical views in this publication manifest a wider public sentiment of the people for the people. It is a collection of narratives about the dreams and desires of many on the African continent. Their works also give space to the doubts and hesitations about the future and what it might bring. This anthology is therefore a study on creativity and critical thinking; it is an intellectual diversity of opinions, fascinating individual narratives and personal philosophies that come together as one pan-African voice for the future. Enabling these ideas to exist and coexist means allowing diversity to enter our lives and to enrich us as individuals. Through this journey one witnesses how culture and the arts are key components in imagining Africa, its people and its future.

Sharing one's ideals, dreams and vision for one's future necessitates the vulnerability and strength of stepping outside one's comfort zone. This enables an openness towards the unknown and an opportunity for introspection that exposes fundamental creative insight. This, in turn, done collectively, becomes the strength and soul that feeds the arts in order to play a meaningful role in bringing people together to imagine the future.

This publication represents an attempt to establish an African perspective on what is needed to transform the future of the continent. It is especially in spaces where freedom of expression is limited or condemned that such an endeavor is crucial. This anthology therefore gives voice to African authors and thinkers from different corners of the continent who wish to create openness, inclusivity and freedom in restricted spaces, whether they be physical or mental.

Unfortunately, in many countries in Africa, political pressures continue to pose great problems for individuals wishing to openly voice their opinions and opposition regarding political and social trends. This of course also has an impact on the work of artists who, like in this publication, wish to focus their determination on the future. Therefore the continued support for platforms such as Imagine Africa 500 as a counter-pressure to political power is absolutely decisive for

healthy debate and diversity of opinions. The stories in this collection, as well as the ongoing work of each and every one of the contributing authors is by definition political and engaging, since to think about the future is to think about the present. This interaction of ideas not only enables continuous redefinition of how the future could be shaped and improved, but also gives new meaning to one's responsibility to the present. Private opinions are only powerful when they are made public. This publication serves to inspire us all to reconsider our surroundings, and understand how public action is essentially equal to participation. One's role as a writer is to question critical considerations and to discuss and evaluate the factors — be they political, social or otherwise — that regulate, interfere or influence our common future. Through this publication, the individual authors consider their own efforts to deter political pressure and social hegemony to contribute to an open, equal and shared future. The ideals presented in the following pages express novel forms of commonality and individuality from an African take; identifying the "I" within the "we".

Social inclusion is the basis of individual development and thus, societal benefit. This focus on individual development is an ideal that Prince Claus himself stood by firmly. In 1996, the Prince Claus Fund was established as a tribute to his dedication to culture and development. The Fund believes that culture is a basic need and the driver of development. It supports artists, critical thinkers and cultural organisations in spaces where freedom of cultural expression is restricted by conflict, repression, marginalisation or taboos. In the past 19 years, the Fund has supported over 2000 cultural initiatives; it has also presented 205 Prince Claus Awards to outstanding cultural pioneers and provided cultural emergency aid to preserve global cultural heritage in more than 221 emergency situations.

The Prince Claus Fund1 supported the Imagine Africa 500 initiative

1 The Prince Claus Fund is financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Postcode Lottery and individual donations. Many individuals around the world contribute their expertise to the Fund.

in 2014 under its Culture in Defiance strategic theme. Through this call the Prince Claus Fund supported a total of 26 different cultural initiatives and artists from around the world. They have all worked in extremely challenging political circumstances and are distinguished by the artistic quality of their work and their focus on bringing positive social change in conflict environments. Imagine Africa 500 is one inspirational example that comes from a growing global community of people dedicated to cultural initiatives that aim to create a positive social impact and enhance freedom of expression and creative autonomy.

Our support to Imagine Africa 500, as well as the other excellent cultural and artistic initiatives supported under our Culture in Defiance call for proposals, was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Dutch National Postcode Lotteries.

Over the years, the Fund has built a diverse global network of excellent people, many of whom are role models in their societies and beyond. This network built on mutual trust and respect is the backbone of the Fund's work. The Fund follows Prince Claus's conviction that people are not being developed, but that they develop themselves. This collection is an impressive and important witness to this philosophy which drives and inspires us and our partners to achieve our shared mission and vision of the world. As individuals, we teach ourselves to understand our own reality and our past, to also learn from each other and from shared memories, experiences and knowledge. It is this reality that informs and feeds into our desired future. It is this reality that artists question; this is the future they attempt to redefine. The Prince Claus Fund is committed to keep supporting artist in this important process. We hope that Imagine Africa 500 offers readers in Africa and beyond new perspectives on possible truths transcending one's individual point of view, and inspiring them to continue this legacy of free African thinking which is shaping an African dream.

Bertan Selim