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Afrofuturism Answers Back to Afro-pessimism

I remember living in Kenya between 1997 and 2000. At the time, I had just returned to my native country after spending six years of my childhood in France. This was a period in time when the country grappled with the crippling effects of Structural Adjustment policies, usually imposed on “third world countries” by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

AS PART OF THE conditions for accepting loans, the Kenyan government was forced to retrench many public employees, including teachers. I watched the parents of some of my closest friends lose their jobs and witnessed the economic struggles their families endured as a result. At the time, a stifling sense of despair and hopelessness, a deep pessimism about the nation’s future, permeated the cultural atmosphere of the country. This pessimism about the country’s future was not unique to Kenya. Indeed, despite the high hopes that had energized many newly independent African countries in the 1960s and 1970s, the 1980s were characterized as Africa’s lost decade as the impetus for economic progress and social development turned into socioeconomic decline and social decay.[1] The term afro-pessimism gained currency in the 1980s and its prevalence has not abated to this day. Indeed, while the number of low-income African countries with a GNP under $700 per capita was 18 during the 1980s, this number had increased to 27 in 1995[1]. The structural adjustment programs imposed on a number of African countries by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the 1990s devastated their economies. In this climate, observers from both inside and outside the continent developed a deep disenchantment about the region’s ability to overcome the challenges that afflicted it, including poverty, youth unemployment and corruption to name a few. Nonetheless, anxieties, as well as cautious forecasts regarding the futures of many African countries, do not necessarily all fall into the category of afro-pessimism. Toussaint Nothias identifies five analytical components of afro-pessimist logic: essentialization racialization selectivity ethnocentric ranking prediction [2] Afro-pessimists typically offer simplistic generalizations about the continent that ignore differences among countries. They divide and homogenize the continent along eurocentric racial lines, problematically differentiating black sub-Saharan and Arab/Muslim North Africa, while choosing to focus selectively on negative stories from the continent. As Jon Soske, an African studies scholar, observes in his research on afro-pessimism “All evils are derived from something essential to Africa, invariably connected to the presence of tribalism. Africans, it is implied, remain forever cursed by their savage and uncivilized past.”[3] Films such as Blood Diamond,