When the Marvel Studios film Black Panther hit theaters in 2018, it created a couple of sensations. The first, of course, was that a major movie featured not only a mostly black cast but credited that cast for portraying an innovative, futuristic African society based on their natural blessing of vibranium, a mineral that fell from the sky in meteors and allowed that society to advance into the technological society we witnessed. The second was the prospect that the mythical country and society of Wakanda could be recreated in real life.
The popularity of the second film in this franchise – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – was confirmed by the $180 million opening weekend revenue in North America. The sequel set a record for a November opening in North America, besting the previous high-water mark of $158 million set by 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Globally, the superhero adventure netted a spectacular $330 million with $150 million of that figure coming from 55 overseas markets, not including China at this point, which prefers films that salute Chinese heroes.
In addition to the merchandising of sweatshirts, t-shirts and other items, as well as DVDs of the original film, pride within Africa and its Diaspora spiked. There was much discussion of recreating the mythical land of Wakanda in present-day times. In fact, the Senegalese singer Akon said he raised $2 billion – or one-third of the estimated total cost – to build AKONCITY, an eco-friendly futuristic metropolis, in his home country.
“AKONCITY is an extension of the sea into the land with waves diving deep into the roots of each building, making it dance on the music of Akon reflecting nothing but happiness bringing no less than success,” the singer said on the city’s website (www.akoncity.com).
The futuristic town is envisioned as using an advanced, interconnected network of devices, including vehicles, home appliances and sensors that share information, which, stored on the cloud, would use data analytics to facilitate “the convergence of the physical and digital city elements, thus improving both public and private sector efficiency, enabling economic benefits and improving citizens’ lives,” according to AKONCITY promotional materials.
Wow! That is an impressive concept. If you’re tempted to think that this is merely a vanity project by an entertainer who can gather donors to support his dream, consider this: humans have landed on the moon and used equipment to explore other parts of our solar system and beyond, researched and cured diseases, developed communications equipment that enables even video connections from the farthest reaches of this planet using satellite linkages and created artificial intelligence that can think for itself to a large degree beyond its basic programming.
Furthermore, consider the advancements Africans made even in ancient times. Africa has the world’s oldest record of human technological achievement. Aside from the oldest stone tools in the world having been found in eastern Africa, the history of science and technology in Africa since then has been grossly underestimated, compared to other regions of the world, despite notable African developments in mathematics, metallurgy, architecture and other fields.
In 295 BC, the Library of Alexandria was founded in Egypt and was considered the largest library in the classical world. Al-Azhar University, established in 970-972, was the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt after the Cairo University. The Greeks came to Africa to study before taking their learning back home and eventually passing what they learned onto the Roman Empire. Advanced construction such as aqueducts to move water and ventilation systems were known in Africa even before they appeared in Europe. Ancient African structures such as the Great Pyramids at Giza in Egypt demonstrated a technological knowledge far in advance of what was evident elsewhere in the world in that time. Could such structures be built today with the precision the ancient builders managed with the tools they had at that time?
So, yes AKONCITY is certainly possible, but one must realize that in the films, Wakanda was not built in the matter of a few years. It developed over time, and this concept will take more than a couple of years to be realized as well. By now, construction was supposed to have begun near the Atlantic Ocean village of Mbodiene. The city was supposed have some planned infrastructure, including hospitals, malls, residences, schools, police stations and solar power plants underway by now. The project’s second phase was scheduled to start in 2024 and end in 2029.
It should be no surprise then that despite assembling a third of the projected funds to build this city, the AKONCITY project is now on hold – not cancelled but delayed for the time being.
According to Quartz Africa, two other advanced cities in Africa have been delayed for various reasons: Kenya’s Konza Technology City (now called Konza Technopolis), which was to be the biggest smart city south of the Sahara, is still trying to prove to investors why they should inject capital in it more than a decade after it was conceived, and Nigeria’s Eko Atlantic City promised to house 250,000 citizens on land reclaimed from the sea but remains unfinished and unoccupied.
There are currently other smart, or techno, cities being built or planned on the continent – including HOPE City in Ghana, and the Ethiopian city Bahir Dar, billed as the “real Wakanda,” and Kigali Innovation City in Rwanda – all promising to solve the problems of poverty and economic stagnation in their respective countries through innovating technology to reach the heights of the fictional African country of Wakanda.
On the website restofworld.com, we are reminded that the African desire to create their own cities beyond what the colonizers developed is not a new phenomenon:
“Cities such as Konza also tap into an older phenomenon. In the decades after the end of colonial rule in the 1950s and ‘60s, African countries began building new cities from scratch as a way of redefining themselves,” an article on the site states. “These cities, which were then appointed as capitals, were to be centrally located and politically and ethnically neutral. Abuja, constructed in the 1990s to replace Lagos as Nigeria’s capital, is the biggest. Dodoma, hitherto a small town with a population of 40,000, replaced Dar es Salaam as Tanzania’s capital in 1974. Gaborone was set up as Botswana’s capital in the 1960s; while Nouakchott, previously a minor village, was selected in 1958 to be the capital of the new state of Mauritania.”
There is a fervent desire to construct a real-life Wakanda as a point of pride, but what can be written and shown on screen is not so easy to replicate. In addition to the fantastic sums needed to make Wakanda a reality, there also is the question of city management. High-tech requires not only skillful planning to make integrated parts work well, but also constant maintenance and upgrading of parts and processes. Moreover, citizens must respect the advanced applications by preserving that with which they come in contact. People who don’t understand technology or how to use it properly would be a detriment to an advanced city. How will residents be selected? What sort of training will be necessary to prevent unnecessary technical problems? What will be done to those citizens who are careless or even malicious?
A point that some may ignore in the movie version of Wakanda is that that society has managed to be modern without abandoning long-held traditions. Furthermore, while there are still some jealousies and enduring resentments among the various Wakandan tribes, for the most part, they have created a functional society that finds ways to diminish outright conflict. Are the African technocities prepared to achieve the same throughout their citizenry?
The push for advanced technocities in Africa may be helped by the Alliance for Green Infrastructure in Africa (AGIA), an initiative to help scale and accelerate financing for green infrastructure projects in Africa, created by the African Union, the African Development Bank and Africa50 in partnership with several global partners, including the African Union Development Agency, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the French Development Agency, the Rockefeller Foundation, the US Trade and Development Agency, the Global Center on Adaptation, the Private Infrastructure Development Group and the African Sovereign Investors Forum.
Therefore, there is money and technical capacity to make replicas of Wakanda possible, but it still is the will to make societal changes that will allow this dream to become reality.