The African Report | Stephen Chan:
With an African tech boom amidst continental unity and a meltdown in Europe, Stephen Chan imagines what Africa could be like in 50 years’ time.
Illustration by Emeric Therond
It is 2064 and the sun shines over the Mediterranean. African Union drones fly in the blue skies and automatically drop life buoys onto the waters below, where Greek workers, fleeing a country of unemployment and financial meltdown – the fifth Greek default on its loans since 2012, with no further bailout in sight – struggle to stay afloat after their boat sank into the lifeless sea.
Europe has mass unemployment, and countries like Greece have gone to the wall. In England – no longer in a union with Scotland and Northern Ireland – the prime minister, a grandson of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, is contemplating war with Libya and the caucus of North African states that control the oil pipelines and shipping routes into and out of the Mediterranean.
France no longer has petroleum for its war planes and is trying to mediate for the sake of favour from Africa.
At the High Council of the recently formed but not-quite-implemented United States of Africa in Addis Ababa, statesmen agree to repudiate all European pleas for budgetary support, to return European refugees, to close hospitals to European health migrants and to develop even further the continent’s links with China, Iran and India.
The European part of the West is finished. The United States has returned to splendid isolation, and Africa is the new great star of global capital and international relations. Is this only a fantasy or is this reversal of roles likely to be possible?
Certainly Africa sits upon the world’s reserves of a whole range of essential resources and, by 2064, will have learnt how to negotiate on its own terms with other states.
From Europe, Africa will seem a promised land of beautiful ebony people who dominate science and advanced forms of nanotechnology, nitrogen extraction from water and the first tri-hybrid cars that work on nitrogen and solar batteries, needing petroleum only to start the engines. The patents are all held in African hands.
Europe, still dependent on fossil fuels, finds an Africa prepared to sell only at huge prices. And there is no choice. Oil reserves have almost run out in the Middle East, and the United States is self-sufficient only by tolerating vast land subsidence as a result of intensive fracking.
As a result of economic and scientific hegemony, African conventional military superiority and discipline seem paramount.
Peacekeeping soldiers are sent to stabilise Greece and Italy, in civil chaos. While Rome burns, a beautiful new Carthage, modelled on the city in Hannibal and Dido’s times, arises to glower almost superciliously but with great schadenfreude across the Mediterranean – which is now a poisoned lake caused by the last great splutters of European industry, desperate to produce and not caring at all about pollution.
Europe is the centre of environmental despoliation, and South Africa and Nigeria – which have replaced the United Kingdom and France on the United Nations Security Council – thunder about retribution, sanctions and the importance of the Lusaka Protocol on carbon emissions and chemical controls.
The New Paris
Meanwhile, in the peaceful jungles and forests of the Congo Basin, native trees flourish along with huge self-contained plantations to regenerate the Brazilian rainforests.
Genetically modified forests claw back the Sahelian lands and the Sahara from the ancient sands. The city of Kinshasa is the new Paris, where art and fashion attract the world’s cultural elite – if they can get a visa to enter Africa.
For the world of international relations now has its new strictures, its new sense of who is exiled from benefit, its new hierarchies of admissibility – and ‘Fortress Africa’ has very little time for the destitute of an imploded Europe.
Vast amounts of foreign aid are sent to the tiny wayward continent to the north of Africa, but to no effect.
Criminal gangs allied to bankrupt governments steal all the money for themselves and to give those governments the possibility of controllable deficits.
The Chinese and Africans have built a vast space station with moon fleets and Mars tankers. Minerals on both heavenly bodies catalyse their earthly equivalents into something never be- fore imagined. Martian-enhanced plutonium has drastically reduced radioactivity and gives huge increases in nuclear energy.
But, above all, African statesmen and stateswomen are now seen as the philosopher-democrats of the brave new world. Thoughtful, young – but with their lives lengthened by genetic engineering – and technologically accomplished, they rotate upon the High Councils before returning to universities and laboratories.
No one wants to be a president-for-life, but all seek to experience as many productive incarnations as are possible in one long life.
The one vanity that has not disappeared is the ubiquitous luxury wristwatch that is still Swiss-made – by virtue of all the leading Swiss factories having relocated to Tunis and Alexandria – but imbued with African technology.
Sierra Leonean diamonds ring their bezels, but the watches are also telephones and tablets that materialise like a virtual foldout, a screen that needs nothing upon which to project but hangs like an image on the hand of the wearer. A mere closing of the hand and the screen is stored within the watch’s tiny circuits.
South Africa’s Chinese and White populations
But not all is always well. Naval ships patrol the midpoints of the Indian Ocean as both Sri Lankan and Malagasy destroyers contest control of what is left of the Maldives – no longer supporting any population, being one metre under water, but with vast, recently discovered bauxite resources.
The huge Chinese population of Madagascar is also seeking hegemony of all the ocean. Elsewhere in Africa, the third generation of the Chinese diaspora has become a municipal force.
Lagos and Kampala have Chinese mayors. The Chinese outnumber the white population in South Africa.
All is well, but all can be tender below the surface. The last great clashes over mine ownership and employee conditions took place only 10 years ago, and the scars of that linger – for there is still an underclass in Africa.
It is not as bad as it was in Brazil at the time of the World Cup of 2014 when riots broke out in the favelas and 3,000 tourists were slaughtered in a stadium explosion – but all eyes now warily turn to the World Cup of 2064 being held in the huge city of Lagos where, despite traffic that moves swiftly, the thunder of cars on flyovers and expressways does not drown out the sighs of despair from the slums on the swamp banks of the Nigerian foreshore.