Avoiding an Agenda in Dystopian Stories
1. Write with a theme in mind, not an agenda.
If you start off writing a story with an agenda in mind, the agenda is going to overtake the story. I’m going to use the Hunger Games as an example since it’s pretty well known (not because it’s the best example out there). In the Hunger Games, it’s clear that Collins has a theme in mind for her story, but not an agenda. The theme is battling against a controlling government and rebellion. An agenda would be that all government is bad and that everyone should rebel and if you don’t you are a bad person. This agenda would play out in boring stories and one-dimensional characters because you don’t need all the “bells and whistles” of a high action story with three dimensional characters to push an agenda. All you need is an opinion, which is why agenda-pushing is best suited for essays and blogs.
2. There is moral ambiguity between what is right and what is wrong and the characters are caught in the middle.
One of the best examples I can think of to explain this concept would be the Legend of Korra. The overall arc of your story can focus on what’s right and what’s wrong. In LoK Season 1, there is Amon who is clear set up to be the bad guy. There is a point to what he’s saying, even if the method he going about it is wrong (which would probably be most villians from that show). Korra is the one caught in the middle.
In the case of your story, I wouldn’t make inhabitants of the Benin inspired kingdom all bad nor would I make the other country entirely good. Without knowing too much of the plot, I can only say that perhaps there’s a group of people in the Benin-inspired kingdom who oppose the colonization of the other kingdom. And perhaps there’s a group of people in the other country who plan to fight back through dubious means.
3. Don’t focus too much on the culture of the character and focus on the character themselves.
One of the pitfalls I see of this setting is who this Benin inspired kingdom intends on colonizing. You stated that it’s not a European continent, but that can’t mean that there isn’t White people in that place or that just because it’s not inspired by Europe that there are no people who can be coded for White. Also, I would be careful about writing a story in which history sort of repeats itself. I would be off put by story that pins POC against other POC if the other two suggestions aren’t followed. I would focus on character and individual choices rather than focus on a government as a whole.