If you were to pay any attention to the media and film industry, you could easily believe that the field of science fiction in Africa is either lacking or is just starting to be explored. The genre of African science fiction (ASF)is, however, quite vast and dates back many years. It is unfortunate then, that the rest of the world seems so eager to forget this fact time and time again. 

In the words of Tade Thompson, the author of the Rosewood trilogy, “[whenever] I see an article that starts with “The Rise of. . .” I think of dough. When it’s applied to African science fiction, I picture an endlessly rising (and falling) dough that will never become bread. Each “rise” is celebrated but ephemeral, existing only until the next event that is itself seen as a “rise” without reference to what has gone before, leaving the field oddly ahistorical to the uninitiated.” Despite the public and specifically the Western perspective, the field of science fiction in Africa is anything but “uninitiated”. The response to films such as Black Panther would lead one to believe that science fiction in Africa is finally undergoing its genesis. This perspective however, much like the genre of ASF, is not new. Films such as Black Panther and District 9 triggered an influx of articles about the “rise of afrofuturism”. This coverage blatantly ignored the rich history of the genre in Africa. Even “casual perusal of the genre shows there’s sufficient creative work to make such articles unnecessary, or, worst case, perpetuators of a gentle literary oppression that keeps African science fiction infantile.”

According to Peter J. Maurits in the book On the Emergence of African Science Fiction, “it appears that there were about 10 ASF publications between 1900 and 1950, about nine in the next 30 years, around five in the 1980s, and five in the 1990s”. From that point on “there seems to have been four in 2007, five in 2008, six in 2009, and hundreds from 2010 onwards”. The genre of ASF took longer to emerge during the 20th century than science fiction in other parts of the world. This is due to several reasons, but largely due to the effects of colonisation in Africa. Publishing ASF was not prioritised by local publishing houses due to what editors perceived as an “insufficient black readership”, according to Nick Wood, a South African-British clinical psychologist and science fiction writer. This lack of readership might have stemmed from an actual lack of interest, or more likely because of the illiteracy due to only a small number of colonised subjects being allowed to learn how to read and write.

Regardless of how slowly the genre of ASF emerged during the 20th century, it had a clear and marked growth from 2007 onwards. However, ASF never really received global recognition. Dilman Dila, in his blog post, Is Science Fiction Really Alien to Africa? considered the question of whether ASF really is a new genre. “African writers”, he says, “forever have to defend their work”. He believes that they are expected to write about the “problems of their societies”, and when they do, people “wonder why they only write about misery and gloom on the continent”. When African writers do write about science fiction, they are called  “copycats”, or told that Africans are not capable of “writ[ing] such stories”. 

Even though science fiction in Africa dates back over a century, it seems that the rest of the world seems determined to mostly ignore Africa’s contribution to this genre. For many years ASF was not allowed to develop because of the effects of colonialisation. It is unfortunate then, that this legacy of “literary oppression” continues to this day, as science fiction in Africa remains overlooked, invalidated, and ignored. 

Image: Cletus Mulaudi

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I’m Kirsten, a law student who loves writing, making spreadsheets and consuming an unhealthy amount of caffeine.
I love writing about student issues and current events.