In February 2018, Black Panther took the cinema world by storm. Interestingly, the fictional setting of Wakanda: a hi-tech African Utopia, was integral to the film’s appeal. I ascribe to the idea that the tale of Wakanda was an allegory for pre-colonial Africa (I’ll elaborate further on). However, the purpose of this article is not to discuss the movie or even Wakanda at all. Rather, my question is: is it possible for the African continent or even an African country to reach a Wakandan level of independence and power in today’s world? I come from Benin Republic, thus I can speak about West Africa and Francophone Africa with more clarity than elsewhere.
Returning to Wakanda, what does pre-colonial Africa even refer to? Well, once upon a time, European explorers hadn’t yet decided to travel to Africa uninvited and eradicate entire parts of our culture. Coincidentally, the continent was mostly a peaceful place: business was booming and technology was advancing rapidly. Just in terms of everyday equipment, Eastern and Northern Africa were pioneers in manufacturing tools and using metal during the Bronze and Iron ages, absolutely dwarfing the technological input from Western Europe at the time. West Africa took the lead in the 16th Century. The walls of Benin City were collectively the largest man-made structures in the world before being damaged in 1897 by the British and the great mosque of Djenné in Mali is still an architectural wonder to this day. 16th Century in West Africa was also a great time for education as Mansa Musa from Mali, probably the richest ruler in history, turned Timbuktu into a hub for international philosophers and scholars.
In today’s day and age, economies such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ivory Coast are expected to grow rapidly (between 7-7.4%) and many world leaders are watching the economic growth of Nigeria (2.3%) and Ghana (7.6%). In spite of this, Africa cannot compete with Europe on an economic scale. This wasn’t the case five centuries ago. Understandably, you may wonder why I’ve spent such a large part of this article reminiscing about this fabled pre-colonial Africa. In response, we can take a look at Benin Republic and many other French speaking countries in Africa who currently use the Franc CFA (the abbreviation translates to French African Colony) as their national currency. All of these countries are the only ones in the world whose currency is made in another country because France is practically in charge of their economies to this day. It is nearly impossible for Francophone countries in Africa to find economic independence when we’re forced to pay 65% of our national reserves annually to France as a compensation tax for all the good they did to us during slavery (Chinua Achebe touches upon this sentiment briefly in his novella ‘Things Fall Apart’).