Written by Andrea Fisher
The fourth industrial revolution is unfolding in Africa and the continent has chosen to embrace the digital opportunities presented to them, rather than be intimidated by the potential threats. Real and digital economies are no longer separate and technology is what has prompted the merge. The developments of robotics, Artificial Intelligence and big data may be a continuation of the third technological revolution, but the speed, size and depth of the emerging one, are the significant differences. The fourth industrial revolution fuses the physical, digital, and biological worlds, affecting all disciplines and every organization ranging from governments and research institutions to civil society and businesses.
This change brings with it immense hope and potential to the African continent and with global assistance, new opportunities will be realized and many Africans will anticipate completely different destinies. Technologies can help us restore our environment, alleviate poverty and fight global inequality and if properly developed, managed and integrated into society, it will unite and create a harmonious common living sphere. Commenting on this, Klaus Schwab says, “The more we think about how to harness the technology revolution, the more we will examine ourselves and the underlying social models that these technologies embody and enable, the more we will have an opportunity to shape the revolution in a manner that improves the state of the world.”
A very realistic apprehension is present because, with these advancements comes digitization, to which majority of African countries will have to adjust and upskill themselves to embrace. In doing so, Africans will eradicate potential unemployment due to the replacing of workers with machines, by moving from low-paying jobs to higher-paying positions instead. Africa very proudly hosts their first “unicorn” or start-up company valued above 1 billion USD; an enterprise comprising of 10 consumer-driven businesses. Their services, including hotel-bookings and taxi services, have adapted to the local context and are proving to be a great success. This proves how enterprises can grow and how a digital economy can be built.
With regards to infrastructure and implementation, this should not be a challenge in Africa, as there was not much to begin with. According to Mr Amr Kamel, the General Manager for West, East, Central Africa and IndianOcean Islands, “By advancing to Industry 4.0, Africa can take advantage of greener, more productive technologies without being burdened by out-of-date energy and labour intensive methods. By leapfrogging, Africa will be closer to attaining sustainable and inclusive growth, employment while safeguarding its natural assets,” he added.
Another advantage for the continent would be that energy would no longer be dependent on (non-existing) centralized grid infrastructure and instead, energy would be distributed to even remote areas, via a smart grid. This would allow children to study at night and meals to be cooked on a safe stove and the risk of fire reduced. Technologically, mobile payment apps like Snapscan and Yoco are indicators of how technology grows exponentially and reaches far wider than conventional financial systems. In fact, Kenya’s M-Pesa (low-cost mobile money) flows are roughly equal to the transaction flows of one of Kenya’s larger commercial banks. This is not only indicative of the eagerness of Africans to learn to use technology and its improvement of their social-wellbeing but also the positive economic impacts the fourth revolution would have on the continent.
In conclusion, Schwab says, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution can compromise humanity’s traditional sources of meaning – work, community, family, and identity – or it can lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a sense of shared destiny. The choice is ours.” The fourth industrial revolution has the potential to drive Africa forward, enabling innovation and independence, whilst stimulating new business models and improving the delivery of public services. There is so much potential for employment, which presents an opportunity for citizens to gain their long sought-after dignity and liberation. This is the change that Africans will appreciate the most.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution January 11, 2016
The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means and how to respond. January 14, 2017
Breeding Unicorns in Africa: is this the first of many? April 28, 2017
Africa to leapfrog into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. March 7, 2017
What Davos taught us. January 25, 2016