= network nation project for the African diaspora
“Emole grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area just before high school. He was the only Black kid in his class. He moved from a country where “race was nothing” (because all his peers were Black) to a world where “it’s staring me in the face.” His new classmates assumed that, as he puts it now, “I knew everything that has to do with blackness.” He knew Nigerian culture but not African American culture. Kids would ask him about Jay-Z and other rappers and, he now says with a laugh, “I didn’t know who these people are.”
This nudged Emole to do research. He watched videos, listened to music, read books and learned everything he could about African American history. These interests snowballed. In college and later at U.C. Hastings Law School, he organized African festivals, concerts, parties and events that would help bring Afrobeats (such as Burna Boy) to a mainstream American audience. These events would coalesce into Afropolitan, founded in 2016. Now the concept of Afropolitan, the sovereign country, has $2.1 million in early seed-funding, including an investment from Srinivasan himself.
Emole thinks of building the nation in four phases. The first phase is cultivating the online community, which he has been doing for years. Using a 10,000 non-fungible token (NFT) drop, Emole and partners will then filter these NFT owners for people with “high alignment” and select the 500 “founding citizens.” (The NFT drop happened on Nov. 1; this is very much in motion.)
These citizens will then launch the DAO and the sub-DAOs. That’s Phase 2. “We want to build our own tech stack. What would it look like to have an Afropolitan super-stack where you’re able to do things like remittances powered by crypto?” Phase 2 also involves setting up the tokenomics, agreeing upon the rules and norms, and signing the Afropolitan Constitution.
Phase 3 is what Emole calls the “minimum viable state.” What needs to happen for them to obtain diplomatic recognition? There are already glimmers of progress. On Sept. 13, Afropolitan was recognized by the New York Stock Exchange as the first ever internet country. As Emole says, “So today it’s the New York Stock Exchange, tomorrow it’s the United Nations.”
And Phase 4, finally, is the manifestation of Afropolitan on actual land. A new country on real turf. “We want not just one particular land piece as a country,” says Emole, “but land that stretches across the world.”
How would that help the average Afropolitan citizen? For many crypto bros, perhaps a DAO is just a lark or a fun intellectual experiment. For Emole and his Afropolitan co-founder, Chika Uwazie, the network state is a way to reduce inequities and empower Africans.
As Uwazie points out, the investment rate for Black founders is lower than the industry average. “Tech companies have been trying to diversify, and they’ve barely made a dent in it,” says Uwazie. “The system is going to take a very long time to change.”
With an Afropolitan network state, members could have easier access to loans – through DeFi and the DAO – refinancing, or investment capital. Maybe they could make payments with Afropolitan tokens. “My number one goal is to empower my community economically,” says Uwazie. "That’s how things changed. When you’re economically empowered, it changes people's lives. It changes generations.”
Emole knows that “utopia” projects court skeptics. “I’m aware of those projects,” says Emole. One thing he thinks separates Afropolitan from others is that “in the West, it feels like a nice-to-have. In Africa it’s a need to have.” Then he gets more candid. “We don’t have [stuff] that works,” he says, contrasting the infrastructure of Africa to that of, say, Switzerland. He says that if he’s a citizen of Switzerland and wanted to start a new country, the first reaction would be, “What’s wrong with this one? Why do you need to start a whole new country?” But when he brings this up to other Africans, the reaction is always, “It’s needed.”
And what will it take for Afropolitan to actually become a reality? Ultimately, says Emole, the biggest hurdle is not tech or capital or politics. The biggest challenge is getting people to believe. “People get scared when they hear this vision,” says Emole. He wants Africans to be more audacious. To believe. “I’m used to African founders coming to Silicon Valley and saying, ‘Hey, I’m building Stripe for Africa’ or “I’m building Uber for Africa””
His message is this: Why can’t Africans do something entirely new? Instead of bringing San Francisco ideas to Africa, why not be the first to truly execute this bold idea? “We’re used to playing it very, very safe,” says Emole. “We need to shoot for the stars.”
Directory of similar initiatives via the Network State Dashboard