DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania
As the world grapples with dwindling water sources and climate change, African science fiction writers and moviemakers are doing their part to warn of the worsening impact of environmental degradation.
On the eve of National Science Fiction Day, an award-winning film directed by a young Kenyan moviemaker is again in the spotlight, as it shed light on the plight of water consumers in Africa and what it takes to cope with water shortages, a threat exacerbated by climate change.
The day is unofficially celebrated by many science fiction fans on Jan. 2, the birthday of Isaac Asimov, the famed American science writer and science fiction author.
Although water is arguably the most abundant resource on earth, covering over 70% of the planet, the reality in Africa is quite different, with many people suffering from severe shortages.
Changing weather patterns, coupled with the rising population, have devastated the water supply in many parts of the continent, leaving many people with scarce access to vital commodity.
Water wars and the future
Screened at the Sundance film festival in 2010, the film Pumzi, which means breathe in Swahili, imagines a dystopian future 35 years after water wars have torn the world apart.
The decade-plus since the film was made has made clear how prescient it was about Africa’s worsening water situation.
In the film, Wanuri Kahiu, an award-winning Kenyan moviemaker, explores water scarcity and imagines a technological system to conserve the dwindling resource.
Inspired by major scientific and technological innovations, Kahiu uses science fiction to imagine, speculate, and think through the political and scientific implications of the technological choices humans make to meet the pressing needs of water resources.
Pumzi begins with a short introduction to the imaginary Maitu community – survivors of the ecological devastation of East Africa 35 years after World War III, which the film also calls the water war.
The community, whose citizens are locked away behind walls, is grappling with harsh environmental conditions, including water scarcity.
Its people, who are apportioned a small amount of daily water, are conscious of the scarcity and are struggling daily to conserve it.
For instance, members of the community are required to store their urine so that it can be purified and reused as water without being wasted.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Kahiu said the movie was partly inspired by her annoyance with the cost of bottled water in the bustling Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
The film explores the potential social, political, and psychological implications of the world defined by the intensified scarcity of resources like water.
Pumzi paints a picture of the worsening impact of climate change, as in its imagined future it caused large-scale ecological devastation in Africa, leaving the land uninhabitable.
Speaking about the film, Kahiu said its theme captures today’s realities and serves as a constant reminder for humans to preserve nature.
“I am not here to tell people how to conserve the environment. I am showing them what would happen if they don’t,” she told Anadolu Agency.
Shot in South Africa, the 20-minute film is about sacrifice and belief, the director said.
Science fiction, environment
The new wave of African science fiction narratives in recent decades broadly attempts to address Africa’s pressing environmental challenges while illuminating the role of science and technology in addressing those challenges, according to film and literature scholars.
Flowin Nyoni, a professor of theatre and communications studies at the University of Dodoma in neighboring Tanzania, said science fiction can help raise awareness of critical opportunities Africans have to circumvent the pitfalls of environmental challenges.
“Africa is uniquely positioned to pioneer new models of sustainable economic growth and development by harnessing the full potential of innovations in renewable energy production, smart power grids, recycling, and urban planning,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Danstan Kimei, a tech entrepreneur based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s financial capital, said science fiction can help accelerate development in Africa.
“Science fiction can inspire Africans to envision their future with a renewed sense of urgency and possibility,” he told Anadolu Agency.
According to him, emerging technologies are raising standards of living by providing access to new tools of production, which can help transform the lives of millions of people across Africa.
“Well-crafted science fiction narratives can analyze technical concepts using accessible language and captivating stories, making it easier for the public to engage in scientific discourse,” he said.
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