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The Fourth Industrial Revolution - An African perspective

Sep 25 2017 13:55
By Monde Mawasha

ACCORDING to the World Economic Forum, the rise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR) is adding intricacy to future economies and their employment outcomes. It’s understood that the FIR is equivalent to unexplored growth in the digitalisation and internet connectivity.

Digitalisation and internet connectivity have the ability to drive Africa forward. This would enable innovation, propel new business models and improve the delivery of public services.

When looking at the FIR, it generally has a disruptive effect on all economies. However, there are three aspects which need to be considered when it comes to Africa:

1. Development of digital skills is pre-eminent,

2. Public-private partnerships are powerful levers for development and

3. Industries are being rattled digitally.

Development of digital skills is pre-eminent

Africa has become more stressed by services and less dependent on commodities. The African continent must cultivate digital skills as part of transitioning its population from low-skill and low pay jobs to high-skill and high pay jobs.

A practical example of how this could be done is highlighted in the ‘The Future of Jobs and skills in Africa’ report. The report suggests that, in order to prepare for the future of work, the region (Africa) must expand its high-skilled talent pool by developing future-ready curricula, with a large portion of that focusing on STEM education - interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world.

Public-private partnerships are powerful levers for development

A key part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in terms of Africa would be that inclusive growth receives attention. Inclusive growth is a ‘concept that advances equitable opportunities for economic participants during economic growth with benefits inclined by every section of society.’

There are three areas which African leaders need to delve into in order to deal with the new challenges while addressing inclusive growth. Mobile related technology is bridging the continent in unprecedented ways. At least 70% of the African continent now has access to mobile technology. By having this digital infrastructure it allows new opportunities for poor Africans situated in rural and informal economies.  

Secondly, an area that needs to receive attention from African leaders is disruptions that effect manufacturing technology. Disruptions being that internet of things and 3D printing are liberalising access to technology and decentralising production. Furthermore, emerging African investors are re-imagining solutions suited to the African context.

For African innovators to develop, policy-makers need to provide a conducive intellectual property regime which would make it easier to do business competitively.

Industries are being rattled digitally

Looking at the technological readiness of Africa, a lot of progress has been made. Mobile phone penetration is one of those areas in which Africa has made a large improvement. Investments into the grid infrastructure have also made it possible for mobile penetration to be possible.

According to Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, President of African Development Bank, “One of the greatest priorities for the content is universal electrification to allow digital technology to play its role in transforming lives”.

Due to Africans being able to gain access to mobile-phone technology it has equipped them with new tools for managing their businesses and households. Although Africa is moving forward in terms of mobile-phone technology it is lagging in terms of broadband speed as only 1.4% of Africans have a fixed broadband connection.

Graça Machel stated that it is crucial that the Fourth Industrial Revolution does not leave anyone behind. The three previous revolutions left Africans behind and women in particular were abandoned. Including women will make business and common sense because women make up half of the African population and bring different skills and perceptions to bear on challenges. 

In conclusion, the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be used by Africa to become a full player in the world economy, however, it must be “impatient and ambitious” to achieve this goal.

Technology offers a “transformative power” and this will push the African continent forward if they invest in it

It is thus, paramount that South African IPAs, IDZs and SEZs be cognisant that South Africa’s dominance in both the African and global FDI markets may be inconceivable unless investment promotion efforts are focused on engaging with the government and investors, with a specific focus on improving the FDI policy related frameworks within the South African economy.

  • Monde Mawasha is the CDC Programme Director: Information & Communications Technology and Research Unit.

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