Interview with Cordelia Salter

Whats the idea behind the Queen Idia’s Africa stories?
The Queen Idia’s Africa stories are “counter-factual fiction”. That means they describe a world that could have existed if things had taken a different turn. The premise for the world of Queen Idia’s Africa is that slavery and colonialism never happened, Africa is the rich global superpower and the West is poor. The opposite of what we have today.
People think that Africa is underdeveloped so it could never be a superpower. What do you think of that?
The idea that Africa could not have been a global superpower is wrong because at many times during history Africa has produced advanced and sophisticated civilsations that have, at their time, been world leaders . Apart from the Pharoahs in Egypt, there are the Kush from Sudan, the Aksumite Kingdoms in Ethiopa and Great Zimbabwe to name a few. Their history, as well as the history of numerous other African cultures has all but been blotted out by what happened during slavery. Colonialism added a further blow as many countries adopted Western based curricula in their schools.

As for West Africa where the Queen Idia’s Africa stories are set, when the European traders arrived on the coast of West Africa they met as two different but equal cultures. If you read the trading records of the agents who were sent out to trade by the Royal African Company, Africans were treated with great respect. They went to a lot of trouble to find out what colours people liked, what type of beads, what cloth. Then they brought it to them whether it was silk from China or beads from Venice. Europeans saw Africa as a very wealthy market and wanted to find products they liked.Certainly West Africa was not considered underdeveloped then - it was a target market!
There are ten stories in Queen Idia’s Africa. Is there a connection between them?
Yes there is. Nine of the stories look at specific development issues but the other-way-round. For example, Africans are tired of illegal European migrants flooding into Africa in the hope of a better life. Development projects in London are trying to create jobs for the locals and rich philanthropists are asked for funding. Four of the stories are about emergencies and food aid. The tenth story has a historical context to explain the origin of Queen Idia’s Africa.
You seem to have a background in development which you have used for writing these stories. Have you lived in Africa?
Yes I have. I spent over twenty years there and lived in Egypt, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Ghana. I feel very lucky to have lived in so many places and in each place I learned so much. During that time I worked in different development jobs from emergencies to long term development. Now I’m working in the UN on global governance of food so even though I’m not in Africa anymore I’m still connected with the issues.
Who did you write the Queen Idia’s Africa stories for?
First of all I wrote them for Africans. I hope the idea behind Queen Idia’s Africa amuses them and makes them ponder on how things really could have been the other way round. After that my next audience would be people who follow development and humanitarian issues. By switching the roles and putting Africa as the donor and the West as beneficiaries puts an uncomfortable spotlight on how aid really works.
Will there be any more Queen Idia’s Africa stories?
I hope so. I have plans for another ten but probably not until 2018. Contact me if you would like to be kept updated. The links are on the Queen Idia's Africa website.
Published 2017-03-19.
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