Usoni means “future” in Kiswahili. In its first game, Kenyan studio Jiwe envisions a world where Europe is hell and Africa is the new El Dorado.
My little Ophelia, listen to the legend of El Molo,” a deep female voice says in Kiswahili while I watch a tall woman walking through the desert. Exhausted and parched, the character stops, stands up straight, and opens her eyes. The voice continues: “She received a message from the sky, she looked around her. There was a black stone, she took it in her open hand, she spat on it. She threw it in the air, the stone fell back to earth, water began to flow, Lake Turkana was born.”
Twenty-seven years after listening to her mother tell the origin story of the Elmolo people, a grown-up Ophelia stands in the streets of a Paris that lies in ruins, unrecognizable. We are in 2063, and Europe has turned to hell. This is the starting point of Usoni, the first postapocalyptic video game produced in Africa. Its first part was released for PC and Android in February 2021 by the Kenyan studio Jiwe, which means “stone” in Kiswahili, East Africa’s main language.
Located in the arid plains of northern Kenya, Lake Turkana has the shape of an elongated fish and might be the cradle of humankind. It is also the location where the Usoni project started two decades ago. In 2001, French director Marc Rigaudis shot a TV documentary about the El Molo people, Kenya’s smallest ethnic group, whose language is at risk of disappearing.
I first met Rigaudis in Nairobi in 2013 when I interviewed him for a Swiss newspaper. One year earlier, this versatile creator, born in 1950 and sporting a ponytail and stubble, relocated from Japan to Kenya. There he took up a teaching position at USIU Africa.