Lagos' Future Imagined From Fiction To Digital Manufacturing And Humanoids

Pelu Awofeso in Abuja, Rebecca Jones in Birmingham and myself in North London were about to wrap up a project discussion on Skype, just then ‘scaling up enterprise’ drifted into our thoughts. Pelu ran with the drift by thinking aloud about a collaborative framework between Nairobi, Johannesburg and Lagos, driving the African Futures Festival hosted by the Goethe-Institute. This festival and a recent Lagos Photo Festival from Pelu’s view are effective examples of how transnational collaboration makes scale possible. I agree in principle.

Interestingly, Pelu had just written a piece on Africa Futures titled ‘what is the city of Lagos going to be like in, say, 2060–and beyond?’

I asked to adapt it, Pelu responded with a green-light and here we are:

“2060 is a 45 year trajectory from where we are now. Two key trends are part of a lifestyle for young Lagosians participating at Africa Futures. The creative possibilities at this exhibition have been informed by access to, information, the concept of value chains and consumer connectedness. Urban consumers are increasingly worldly in terms of glocal trends; there is an awareness of consumer preferences, trends and influences outside of and across urban spaces in Africa."

Lagos Journey To Megacity

Where to from this journey? Infographic by Anibal Maiz Caceres Design for Prudential Investment. Work for visual.ly

Craft labor meets digitization; as we speak investigations into the aesthetic and practical possibilities of digital fabrication mixed with local craft resource, make-do-plus-mend culture and other small-scale production processes like laser-cutting, 3D printing, and circuit board fabrication are happening at various maker-spaces & maker-events around the world.

A digital transformation pathway to an industrial future for cities such as Nairobi, Lagos and Johannesburg one might argue will be driven in part by ‘open source processes’, curiosity beyond our comfort zones about people, digital literacy, collaboration, IP framework key to innovation and super organisational structures.

One can take a view about the different and innovative propositions on display at this exhibition, when seen as part of a process about rethinking digital modalities of creating, manufacturing and sharing: where open source collaborative practice on projects can take places across borders. In this context we have ‘Lagos as a geographic opportunity’.

The process is a collaborative attempt at shaping a wider and diversified ‘thinking by making culture’ designed to bring new ideas and specific developments across a range of sectors, from diversified cultural goods sector (products that function at once as art and entertainment), science to design, education, engineering to environmental applications and alternative retail models even user driven innovation in health-care.

Initiatives such as ‘Africa Futures’ vary in their tactical objectives given the specific geographical opportunities and evolving maker cultures found in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Lagos.

African Futures Nairobi

African Futures location, Nairobi. | Goethe Institute Kenya, Paul Munene

In the world of exhibition participants a Lagos situated in their imagined futures is a technologically mediated world of levitating cars, submersible public transport services, automated domestic services and 3D print manufacturing hubs, “available commercially for those wanting to print instant houses, furniture and temporary girlfriends”.

These (and more) were showcased at the African Futures Festival of the Goethe-Institute in Lagos. The project ran in parallel with sister events at Johannesburg and Nairobi. It sought to access insights from African creatives and intellectuals by

“following the conceptual potential of their narratives and artistic expression in literature, fine arts, performance, music, film, and various digital formats.”

African Futures location Lagos

African Futures location Lagos. | Goethe Institute Nigeria, Signature Photos Lagos

The Lagos event had ten display booths. One of the exhibits I found thought provoking was Omenana - a digital publication focused on speculative/flash fiction.

In one of the stories, essayist Temitayo Olofinlua recreates the disorderly Computer Village market in the Ikeja area into a sanitized tech-driven commune re-named Computer City; it doubles as a Software Free Trade Zone bounded by East, west, North and South Gates, where goods and services are paid for by biometric technology (ATMs as we know them today are a relic of a forgotten past). The City also boasts energy efficient 25-storey transparent glass buildings, automated retail spaces with vandal proof public bicycles and electric motorbikes as part of an environmentally sustainable transport eco-system.

“We Africans need our own visions of the future,” says editor Chinelo Onwualu in the ‘Issue X’ edition. “More than imagining cool devices and technologies, we need to dream up solutions for our present-day problems…We desperately need visions, for better and or worse, that centre around our experiences and concerns. A future that doesn’t treat us as side characters, extras or backdrops.”

In Amogunla’s imagined Computer City, there is a Yabacon Valley (where software developers congregate) and Naijasoft replaces Microsoft as the dominant brand.

“It is the only place in the whole of Africa where leading software sellers sell their products. People come from everywhere to buy Naijamade software.”

African Futures location Johannesburg

African Futures location, Johannesburg. | Goethe Institute South Africa, Lerato Maduna & Bhekikhaya Mabaso

In this ultra post-modern setting, many of the streets still retain their existing names. And conscious of that fading history, Amogunla pays affectionate tribute to a time before Yabacon Valley took root with consequent flight of original tenants.

“Long before computers were sold here, long before this area became known as Computer City there were some shops on this street that sold medical supplies to the many hospitals around the area,” she writes of Medical Road.

At the ‘Lagos 2060’ booth, Lagos is a society being transformed by technology. A free-standing republic where sex pods (whatever that means) and robot-dating are practical realities and sometime in 2070, “The Lagos Megacity Board has proposed the Makoko Submarine City expansion”.

The irony is not lost on me: Makoko today is a residential slum with productive citizens but an environmental complexity with a legacy structure.

‘Lagos 2060’ is the creation of ‘Imagineering Lagos’, a collective of creative technologists, writers and cultural producers given to conceptualizing what the mega-city is likely to look like in the distant future.

“We are bad at planning our cities,” says Olamide Udoma of Future Lagos, one of the brains behind ‘Lagos 2060’

Future Lagos has four other members.

“It is called scenario planning. Rather than look into the future and plan ahead, our governments are often reactionary. The try to solve problems only when they arise when they actually should be thinking of what our accommodation needs, our transportation needs, our educational needs and so on will be like in, say, 50 or 100 years from now and then plan accordingly. That is how the West works.”

Secondary school students walking by display booths at African Futures

Secondary school students walking by display booths at African Futures location, Lagos | Goethe Institute Nigeria, Signature Photos Lagos

An even more radical futuristic Lagos presents itself in the booth devoted to future design, anchored by talented graphic artist and illustrator Ibrahim Ganiyu. There, tablets have morphed into Ifablets, inspired by the Ifa corpus of Yoruba cosmology. Described as the “de facto oracle device of the era”, it “contains all knowledge and can be sought for guidance on all issues”. The Ifablets, complemented by an army of Nseloku droid robots, are hailed as self-repairing and totally environmentally friendly, designed to serve humans in every sector; agro-processing, industrial and security, among others.

According to the wall caption,

“An Nseloku is built to last a hundred years, after which it will bury itself within the Nseloku Trees’ Park as it dissolves back into the earth.”

How might narrators today involve people, influence scientists, technologists, designers, innovators and researchers in creating the reality of Lagos 2060.

What could a thoughtful exercise of the imagination lead to?

Are you in an ideation mode?

If yes, then please respond to questions posed in the "Lagos 2060 - Opinion Poll".


Lagos 2060 - Opinion Poll

Cover Image, Goethe-Instituut Johannesburg | Lerato Maduna and Bhekikhaya Mabaso

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