Mapping Wakanda is mapping African innovation

The movie, Black Panther, has a huge fan base and some few critics. I was personally not amused that African dignity was depending on a magic stone as opposed to human capital. However, the movie had an enormous merit of making futures thinking about Africa popular.

Amongst the central questions of the movie is: How would African power look like and behave? Beyond Afro-Optimism, Black Panther explores a game-changing scenario but ends with the same diagnosis as any realistic assessment of Africa today: the vulnerability of an isolated African success story detached from a shared emancipation throughout Africa and the people of African descent in the diaspora.

Mapping Wakanda is connecting the dots of African heritage throughout the world to create a new African identity. However, it is less complicated than it sounds. Wakanda is on everybody’s fingertip, the African country with enough skills to compete in the modern world is hiding in plain sight in the digital space.

But before going digital, we need to revisit old myths about Africa, such as the one of an overpopulated continent. Africa is ten times bigger than India and has a smaller population. In fact, Asia accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s population and 29.5 per cent of the world’s landmass while Africa only accounts for 15 per cent of the world’s population yet with a size of 20.4 per cent of the world’s landmass. In addition, Asia has a population density of 246 people/km2, Europe 188 people/km2 and Africa only 188 people/km2.

Africa’s population density map shows a high concentration of people around Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Great Lakes region, the rest are huge countries with dispersed population. Hence the biggest issue in Africa is not so much population size but intra-African connectivity. Africa is more connected to the outside world than within her member countries, as evidenced by the numbers of intra-African trade, which stand at 15 per cent of the continent’s total merchandise trade against 67 per cent in Europe and 58 per cent in Asia.

If we think of Africa as one country and we connect all African assets into one measurement, the picture is that of one emerging country with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion. This would put Africa economically at par with India.

If you break Africa apart, the result is what we have today, an assembly which was specifically designed to be dysfunctional. What Africa needs is not a unity of those parts but a reconfiguration with a logic of value creation. Each part needs to rediscover its purpose instead of all parts trying to do the same as nation States.

Smart Africa tries to do exactly the same by allowing each country to define its contribution to the Single African Digital Market, for example who thought that Djibouti with a desert size of 23 200 Km2 would host the whole of Africa by being the custodian of African data centers?

Recently, in Kigali, African heads of State signed the continental free trade agreement with the aim of creating a single African market. While this is the most consequential agreement on African integration since the Abuja Treaty of 1991, its implementation will be subject to political processes with uncertain outcomes. Hence there is a need of a trailblazer.

In line with the thinking of Wakanda, the idea of an African trailblazer, we now need to create a digital country, which can be joined by all progressive forces. The citizens of that country would be netizens producing solutions to African problems. This country can start tokenize African resources and be the depository of African assets classes.

The recent reforms of the African Union spearheaded by an African dream team, under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, are a good example of what can be achieved when Africans work on one product.

Information and communication technology will be for Africa what steel and coal have been for Europe. Tools shaping the society and international relations. Today’s blockchain technology allows the registration of values without requiring a political ascent. Moreover, the skills acquisition in ICT is much faster than any other technology, in equal measure profits are exponential in a short period of time.

Africa needs to use information technology to densify factors of production, as manufacturing will not be the sole driving force of African urbanisation. Africa can start by creating a digital depository of the Africa we want and start converging its brightest people around it.

Wakanda could start as a smart city, an African City State connecting ideas to pan-African capital. The power of innovation is the real engine of human progress, mapping Wakanda is mapping African innovation.

The writer is a social commentator based in Kigali. 

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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