Africa needs to embrace the fourth industrial revolution

Africa needs to embrace the fourth industrial revolution

Africa is becoming more vocal on the global stage as we have received a number of announcements related to Africa in recent weeks. We highlighted in an earlier article how technology and innovation will be key to transforming Africa, a sentiment re-enforced at the recent 26th World Economic Forum on Africa.

Here, Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, said at the recent opening address that Africa should use the opportunities presented by the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ to transform itself into a full partner on the global stage. “Africa should not be still playing catch-up when the fifth revolution comes around, he added. Kagame called for “a continent free of pity and apprehension, a place of opportunity and partnership.”

The transformative power of technology lies at the core of the vision of a fourth industrial revolution, as articulated by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, continued Kagame. However, it should be understood that technology is not a ‘magic bullet’ in itself, but a tool for wisely tackling the challenges faced by Africa.

On a practical level, digital solutions in financial markets need to be significantly scaled up, said Kagame. Efficient, reliable and stable capital markets are key to providing access to funding for growth, and ICT makes such markets viable. At the same time, he added, development and growth are about more than machines – Africa’s people are an enormous resource – and can be achieved through ‘good politics and accountability’.

Kagame said it is a myth that there is only one acceptable way to build a just and equitable society. But, whatever path is followed, the key leadership requirement is ‘clear-headed realism’.

Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, president, African Development Bank (AfDB), Abidjan, and a co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, said that Africa has ‘no choice but to be ambitious’ in embracing the fourth industrial revolution. He said that one of the greatest priorities for the continent is universal electrification to allow digital technology to play its role in transforming lives. “Africa is tired of being in the dark. This is why the African Development Bank will spend $12.5 billion in the next five years on its New Deal in Electricity,” added Adesina.

It is crucial that any policy or action “does not leave anyone behind,” said Graça Machel, founder, Foundation for Community Development (FDC), Mozambique, and a co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa. The first three revolutions left Africans as a whole behind, with women in particular being abandoned.

Machel urged a revolution in education, as did Dominic Barton, global managing director, McKinsey & Company, USA, and a co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, who said the four-year college qualification model is not serving Africa particularly well. Barton suggested fast-track, “four- to six-week” specialist courses to get young people into businesses and the real economy as soon as possible.

Elsie S. Kanza, head of Africa, member of the executive committee, World Economic Forum, said her vision for Africa as part of the fourth industrial revolution is for the continent to send a team of women to Mars in a spacecraft designed and launched from its own soil.

With all eyes turning to Africa, it is clear that there is a strong drive to lift both the image of Africa as well as drive the continent to be a key player in the global innovation-driven economy.

[Photo credit: Millicom]

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