Africa Braces for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
January, 29th 2020
COUNTRIES IN AFRICA ARE seeing economic progress and regional integration that could support the spread of transformational technologies such as artificial intelligence or the internet of things. Yet a deep lack in digital skills, coherent leadership and basic infrastructure could make the continent miss out on a major industrial revolution – this time with dire consequences, experts warn.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of the digital, biological and physical worlds, where artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, the "internet of things" and advanced wireless technologies see increased development worldwide. This revolution promises to bring about transformative changes that Africa cannot afford to miss, say experts from the Brookings Institution in a new report.
"Failure to recognize and capitalize on Fourth Industrial Revolution opportunities, conversely, will impose considerable risks on African stakeholders," warns Brookings. "Without attempts to move beyond existing models of innovation, entrepreneurship, and digital growth on the continent, African businesses risk falling further behind,exacerbating the global 'digital divide' and lowering their global competitiveness."
While historically lagged on earlier industrial revolutions, countries across the continent have a better chance of taking advantage of the opportunities arising from technological advancements, experts say. Yet for this to happen, countries need to work together for the region's prosperity and governments need to allow for opportunities and innovation to flourish.
"(At the moment) how governments are trying to keep up with innovation is by devising policies to stop, control, and tax," says Viola Llewellyn, co-founder and president of Ovamba Solutions, a U.S.-based fintech company operating in Africa. "They actually don't know what they're doing, and so industries shrink very quickly and don't hit sustainability."
According to the Brookings report, the continent needs to ensure skills match labor demand and vice versa, enhance governance for better managing the challenges and opportunities arising, and integrate into the global value chains. Africa also needs to secure investments in basic infrastructure, experts say.
"Access to electricity in Africa is 45%," Armando Manuel, former minister of finance in Angola and World Bank alternate executive director for Angola, Nigeria and South Africa said at a panel earlier this month. "You can't develop in the darkness and you can't go to the Moon when you have constraints to go to the next corner."