How the world of Wakanda can teach us about where we should be putting our voice – and how we can measure the way others see us.
By Nnamdi Oranye
The world of Wakanda, the fictional Africanised future of Marvel’s Black Panther, has had the media and critics and the average African on the street talking quite a lot recently. We’re all amazed at what Wakanda represents – an Africa we feel we can attain to, or that we should have attained to already. In a fantastical, fictionalised way, it showcases something of the beauty and strength and potential of our continent.
Some, like the former Generations star, Fana Mokoena, are less than pleased. He has noted that the film, while having its merits, is ultimately just another version of white Hollywood exploiting the people of Africa. They haven’t done this for any other reason except to take advantage of a huge market. He has a point, of course. But nevertheless, there is something in what Wakanda represents in each of us.
My work largely plays in the Wakanda space, since I’ve been dreaming about what an Africa for Africans looks like in our future, and I’ve been writing and talking about it for quite some time. We’re on the cutting edge of some amazing innovations in Africa – innovations that make African lives better.
Much like Wakanda, we ought to be writing our own story, innovating in our own way, and need not follow the West’s version of how “development” takes place. We can’t anyway, since that story incorporates traditional industrialisation, and also incorporates exploitation of Africa and its resources. It’s now the 21st century, technology has moved on, and we have to innovate in our own time and place and context.
One of the reasons why the movie is such a hit with audiences is because Wakanda is a kind-of surprise to those in the West. Most of us in Africa feel that way about Africa. We’re a hidden gem, and when people from outside come here they’re surprised at what we’re doing and our amazing potential.
It’s very clever the way the movie Black Panther plays on this sentiment. One of the reasons why people are often surprised by what’s happening in Africa, however, is simply because they’re not told about it. One of the world’s biggest go-to places for information, outside of Google, is Wikipedia – and it’s a perfect example of what I mean.
Go to Wikipedia and search for “African innovation”. What do you get? A series of articles that loosely link to the concept, but not much. Why is that? Is there really nothing to write about? No, not at all. There’s plenty to write about! Go check out the article on “Africa’” and read the “post-colonial era” section. Like I did, you will find it horribly disappointing. In fact, it seems rather out-dated. Go check out “Africa Rising” next.
There’s an article there, but not much! And that article itself is quite Western-leaning. In fact, in general, you constantly feel as if Africa is under the microscope – being examined by some other entity, be it Western media or something else, rather than Africa being given a microphone to talk and give its perspective.
Since we’re talking about Black Panther, it’s interesting when you consider the above and go visit the Black Panther Wikipedia page. Here’s a movie about Africa. Almost every day I’m seeing some or other African publication writing about it. But notice how the section on critical acclaim and reception of the movie is, well, quite Western. What Western publications say matter, and I know it’s a Hollywood movie, but wouldn’t it make sense to incorporate some more details about what Africans are saying – given that the movie is set in a fictionalised Africa? Why don’t I see that there?
Is this Wikipedia’s fault? Actually, it’s not. Becoming a contributor on Wikipedia is surprisingly easy. At the end of the day, it’s partly our fault as Africans. Where we can have a voice, we aren’t taking our opportunity. I don’t mean to say we should flood Wikipedia with biased articles about how amazing and beautiful our country is. In fact, if we remain unbiased and factual, we will see a great deal more fruit. Because we don’t have to make things up. We’re not just a continent of potential, but we’re a continent that’s doing some amazing things. We only need to talk about them!
In all my talk of African innovation in the last five years, I’ve realised how even our own media doesn’t cover what we’re doing to the extent it could, or should. I’ve also realised that it’s very difficult to measure what impact we’re having when we talk about African innovation, because we’ve just never thought of doing it. By 2030, Africa is projected to have the largest working population in the world.
But will we realise our massive potential as an innovative continent? We need to know who we are. We need to tell our stories to each other, to our people, and to the world. And we need to do it on open spaces like Wikipedia, and even on Western spaces where we can find them.
This is why I’m going on a full-blown campaign to do so. I want to be able to measure how the world is truly thinking about us, and I want to infiltrate and give us our voice at the table. I’m calling on Africans to sign up at Wikipedia and start writing about who Africa really is. Do your research, get the facts straight, and let’s do this! Know your change and talk about it. My dream is that, by 2030, the world is knocking at our door asking for us to come and bring our brilliant minds into their spaces!