Wakanda is the mythical land of the Black Panther. It is very much a utopia – the sunsets there are the most beautiful, the people seem to live in contentment and affluence under a benevolent, wise king. The mercenary Klaue Ulysses even tells CIA Agent Ross that it’s the famed El Dorado. Except instead of gold, it’s a mountain of Vibranium – a fictional metal that’s so rare in this universe that it sells for $10 000 dollars per gram (http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Wakanda). This in comparison to the current price of gold $43 dollars per gram.
Inside the Vibranium Mines
In movies, especially those of the Marvel lineup, we are expected to suspend disbelief for a and accept the story that the scriptwriter presents. But in the real world, would this utopian Wakanda have been able to survive for so long? And how?
To provide a short overview of Wakanda’s past: The tribes used to war over their massive mountain of Vibranium until the Panther God Bast showed one warrior the Heart Shaped Herb, making him the Black Panther and thus uniting the tribes under one king.
Until now, Wakanda is ruled by what largely seems a hereditary kingship except when a challenge is issued for ritual combat. The Black Panther comes from all tribes as was evidenced in the after life when we see former Black Panthers in their various tribal outfits. This is likely how internal peace is maintained – their strict adherence to cultural practises and a sort of racial politics that has all tribes equally represented. The Black Panther then has his council of Elders made up of members from all tribes. Their system of monarchy with no evidence of democracy seems to work (as far as the movie goes) and there is no evidence of major internal conflicts ever since they were united. It is alluded to that the citizens of Wakanda are well off and happy. Although to be fair, not much about the country’s socio-economic or human rights situation is revealed.
Wakanda has an abundance of one resource: Vibranium. Yet they don’t claim sell any of it, an idea that makes sense in our geopolitical landscape because had other countries known they possessed this rare metal, it could lead to a full-scale invasion, of the kind much of the Middle East is familiar with.
However the big question remains, in an era of free market and international trade, what makes their economy tick? As far as we know some trading does take place, because there is a tribe that deals with trade. But Wakanda is largely self-sufficient – which explains why despite the high tech nature of the urban infrastructure, the people seem to lead simple lives, they will find it difficult to purchase things from the outside.
The technological benefits do not quite seem to have spread to the rest of Wakanda. We see an urban centre that looks like a scene out of a sci-fi movie. But immediately outside it, the landscape resembles any other agrarian African plain. The Jabari tribe live in seemingly primitive conditions. I shudder to think of Wakanda’s urban-rural divide.
Does Wakanda Suffer the Resource Curse?
Now with the opening up of their nation, their economy will likely be more dependent on Vibranium and external trade and the world economy. We hardly see Wakandians engaged in labour, even in the Vibranium mines. There are brief shots of women engaged in domestic labour in their home but that is all. Presumably, because of their policy of sending Wakandians out of the country to study in the best institutions, they will have the expertise and be better equipped to structure their economy appropriately.
In terms of its international relations, Wakanda practises a brand of defensive realism – to survive in an anarchic international system, it must be insular and independent. Its foreign policy is one of extreme non-interference. They even refuse to take in refugees from their neighbouring African countries. Despite its significant military and technological capabilities, it does not seek to expand its nation or portray aggression towards other nations – quite contrary to what one would assume of most strong states *cough* America *cough*. Indeed I find this quite refreshing, no need to impose your values and ideals on the world simply because you have the military might to back it up.
Is There Really No Conflict in Wakanda?
The beauty of humanity lies in its diversity. But diversity in ideologies and morals also causes conflict and I am sure there would have been many like N’Jobu, Nakia and W’Kabi who disagree with the isolationist and defensive policies of Wakanda. Therefore it is impossible to say that the Black Panther rules over a country that is entirely content and peaceful. It is improbable that all the citizens would have just sat by and watched the Partition of Africa among the colonial powers happen without trying to help their fellow Africans or fight this injustice. When the slave trade was flourishing in Africa, it is safe to assume that Wakanda would have protected its own people.
But again, it is unbelievable that they would have stood by and done nothing while Africans were being turned into slaves. There must have been a clash in ideals at multiple points in the past. During these massive injustices, the Black Panther could only have maintained control by employing repressive means to keep their people silent and prevent an uprising and restricting the flow of information into the country. That and/or through effective forms of propaganda entrenched into the education system. Perhaps in maintaining this Utopian ideal, there is a darker undercurrent to Wakanda.
“The wise build bridges, the fools build barriers.” – T’Challa
At the end of the movie, T’Challa makes the decision to connect with the rest of the world so that they can benevolently share what they have and aid other Blacks. This does smell abit like what America tried to do in its post civil war era by imposing themselves on other parts of the world with the false notion that they were helping these countries. But I have a feeling that Wakanda would be a lot less intrusive thanks to its leadership. His philosophy (insert wisecrack) is similar to Aristotle’s idea of the Golden Mean, meaning he rejects both extremes of isolationism and the idea of fuelling revolutions all over the world that both Killmonger and W’Kabi had. Instead he takes a middle path. Perhaps at the end of it all, this movie is a story about moderation.
Written by Lhavanya DL