In May 2022, we partnered with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the African Centre for Trade and Development (ACTADE) to organize the inaugural #OkereSummit for Development. The summit attracted development experts and young innovators who had a unique engagement and exchange of ideas with the rural people of Okere village about re-imaging rural futures. Our founder and CEO, Ojok Okello gave the keynote address entitled: OKERE CITY AS A RURAL FUTURISTIC EXPERIMENT. Read the full address below;
Among Leb-Lango speakers, “Adwari-Adwari” is a common phrase/moniker referring to “backwardness and rurality”. For instance, when one pours a glass of water over the brim, they question; “why are you pouring water in the glass adwari-adwari?”. Or when one is dressed in less modern fashionable manner, they would say they are dressed adwari-adwari. Okere City, located in Adwari sub-county is thus a geographical locality historically associated with rural backwardness. How do we re-imagine villages or countryside like Okere as places and agents for the performances and construction of more just and desirable rural futures? How should we make sure these futures are not hinged on growth-based urbanization and capitalistic modernization as we know it?
Growth-based and capitalist modernization has rendered rural areas to a stand-still, remain backward, and indeed continue to be places of the past. If there is any capitalist interest in the rural, it shall most of the time be about an “invasion” to make more increased revenue streams and generate more profits. For instance, when large corporations establish acreages of farmlands in the countryside. To the growth-based modernists, rural localities are just ‘factors of production. And if anything, the rural should just continue being mere and passive recipients of modernity. After all, to them, societal transformations can emanate and innovative practices can only proliferate from such cities.
But rural futurism defies descriptions of marginality, peripherality, and backwardness often associated with the rural. It also goes beyond villages and countryside as mere factors of production. Instead, rural futurism seeks to make sure that the rural is an active participant in the production and experimentation of pro-people and more desirable futures. It argues for the empowerment of the rural to become a better performers in the rural-urban world. How does the rural become a better performer, and how best can Okere City play a role as a rural futuristic endeavor?
Environmental conservation and protection: The countryside is undoubtedly where the decisive battle to protect and conserve the environment shall be fought. For it is in the villages where large swathes of land still exist to plant trillions of trees, which experts say is the best way to fight climate change. But let’s also not forget that actually, rural people live in solidarity and closeness with nature, thereby emerging as their natural and best custodians. But urbanization has also taken a dangerous toll on environmental protection in Okere. For instance, the demand for charcoal in urban areas (mostly Lira, but also Kampala) has led to the destruction of over 70% of the shea trees’ cover in Okere over the past 20 years. To avert this predicament and future climate apocalypse, we have embarked on a mission to plant 1,000 shea trees every year for the next 10 years. We also conduct sensitization and community awareness campaigns against the destruction of shea trees. Through our shea regeneration and protection efforts, we hope to establish shea trees as the “vibranium” that spurs economic transformation in Okere.
Local leaders in Okere village planting shea trees
Rural futurism renews interests in the countryside and reduces rural-urban migration: Rural Futurism rejects the notion that rural benefits must only be enjoyed by the wealthy who can afford to build palatial country homes or those who can pay for exotic countryside experiences. Obviously, this practice shall only make rural communities replicas of urban realities that offer little benefits to actual rural communities. In essence, rural futurism advocates for the creation of social and economic opportunities in the rural and gives rural dwellers the alternatives to creating better and dignified lives within their locales. Should people desire to migrate to urban areas, it shouldn’t be because they lack what to do. After all, they are desirous to explore other alternatives for bettering themselves. Indeed, rural futurism goes so far as to imagine urbanites investing resources and creating other socio-economic opportunities in the rural to make rural life more full filling and meaningful. The impact of a reduced rural-urban migration could quite easily be neglected in the bigger scope of the global migration crisis, especially where 3,000 young people died in 2021 alone trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe attempting to look for greener pastures Europe as migrants. A future where rural Africa is re-imagined as hotspots of innovations and bedrocks of socioeconomic opportunities could be a game-changer in tackling the root causes of flight where the African man (or sometimes woman) drowns at sea or becomes victims of racist and anti-migration policies abroad when they survive the sea.
Rural futurism could potentially be the anti-dote to bad politics. So important is rural futurism offering a solution to bad politics because rural people are the most often than not the most affected when it comes to poor governance of societies. Indeed, the rural is most often the site of oppression. Arguably, poor service delivery by state authorities will impact rural dwellers more than their urban counterparts as fewer options usually exist in the rural. Corruption makes rural people’s livelihoods difficult because the rural people, many of them illiterate cannot speak and demand accountability from public offices. Worst still, poor, illiterate voters are increasingly gullible to exploitative politicians who buy them salt or cheap alcohol in return for their votes. In Africa, most unscrupulous politicians exploit their rural constituencies to attain their political offices. But imagine a future where rural dwellers are politically conscious and empowered to overturn their localities from sites of oppression to sites of resistance? Imagine a rural future where voters are civically aware of their democratic rights and responsibilities and are willing to use their rural margins as spaces for radical openness? Imagine a rural future where literate and civically astute rural voters engage with their political leaders as equals? This is the future we are, as Okere City desirous to create. We are not blind to the reality that this future is farfetched. But we have taken a leap of faith to invest in our leadership laboratory that provides local leaders not only with skills, knowledge, and exposure but also offering them the opportunity to have an interface and provide accountability to ordinary citizens — their subjects.
Isn’t the future truly in the countryside? Come, let’s go and assemble in our countryside. They need us. Just like we need them!
 Julia Spanier (2021). Rural Futurism: Assembling the Future in the Countryside. ACME Journal