Fourth Industrial Revolution, The African Story

Vanessa Kisowile
May 25 · 5 min read

One thing is very clear, African countries can not embrace Fourth Industrial Revolution the same way that Japan, Germany or any other developed country has. At the same time seeing how Africa has leapfrogged in the aspects of innovations shows quite how the revolution can look like for Africa.

As we go into this industry, it changes the game and the models of the ecosystems from business, agriculture, education, work, food security, health, finance and even access. This disruption is sadly taken or received with fear and this maybe because of the way 4.0 is communicated to the non-techies ei: governments and the normal public because it seems like it’s robots and automation taking over.

Now more than ever it’s important that communities, societies and governments work together in order to lead the charge in regards to the fourth industrial revolution, which not only promise to change the way we produce, also contributes quite strongly to economies and provide simplicity of doing business across the emerging markets in Africa. Within the last five years this has been a common topic, when it comes to the African perspective, how strongly should we be paying attention to this particular theme?

From the African perspective there are areas that I personally think we need to be extra sensitive and that if we look at them from the advantage point of view these technologies will actually work really well for us, these are:

Agriculture sector | Whether it’s looking at how we can leverage technology into increasing productivity and efficiency, or how we can use it to facilitate the business side of Agriculture and grow the African market since it is the world’s hope when it comes to food security and yet, it is yet to live to those standards. From using Big data to make predictions, to analysing climate and resources needed, to improving access of information to farmers and regulating policies in incorporating technology in trading, all these can work to positively impact the agriculture sector in Africa.

Health sector | In the past decades I’m not sure if there is any other sector that has experienced tremendous transformation as the health sector. The ability to now use technologies like nano technologies, gene technologies, big data, even as simple as access of information has had a great impact on the industry. This fourth industrial revolution is bringing together the digital, the physical and the biological systems.

Looking at technologies like Dr. Elsa, E-Shangazi etc., if we reach a point where our policies and the key goals become maximizing their use into enabling and providing every human being their basic needs , they will be more effective than looking at them like the replacement of doctors or health service providers. Taking advantage of such technologies to reach to the public that is now facing limitation to health services will be one of the most positive impacts of this revolution.

Education and the future of jobs | With 200 million youths aged between 15 and 24 , Africa has the youngest population in the world. The current trend indicates that this figure will double by 2045, according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook report prepared by experts from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the industrialized countries’ Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among others.

With the predication of 75 million jobs to be displaced by the division of labor between humans and machines, while 133 million new roles more adapted to this new division will emerge according to Studies conducted by The Center for European Economic Research (ZEW), they believe the emerging professions will lead to an increase in employment from 15% to 27%, while the percentage of unemployment will go from 31% to 21%.

The questions are, is Africa’s formal and informal education system preparing it’s youths for this change? Is the revolution too fast for Africa? With its proven ability to leapfrog, will Africa catch up with the rest of the world on this?

“The future is not preordained by machines. It’s created by humans.” — Erik Brynjolfsson, director at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Climate change and green economy |Lately some of African countries have taken initiatives that contribute into solving climate crisis the world is facing at the moment, from banning plastic bags, to introducing biodegradable bags and supporting recycling businesses.

We can be inspired by nature, use natural organisms to design some of the products we need, like Avani, using cassava to create biodegradable bags, it is the question of adding quality to quantity, it isn’t the matter of simply solving the climate crisis, is how are we creating a climate friendly environment for the next 100 or 1000 years.

The goal is no longer, I want to be less bad, less unsafe, less unjust, it’s really about a diverse safe and just world with clean air, clean soil, clean energy — William McDonough, StandFord University, USA

Urbanisation and Smart Cities |Africa’s population is expected to reach around 2.3 billion by 2050. When this growth brings about opportunities, it’s also the time we address the challenges that might face or is facing its major cities. We are looking at how agile these cities can be. This agility is brought by inspecting all aspects of city buildings, land, security, energy, mobility, education, governance and technology.

Imagine a city where the government embraces ongoing transformation; planners efficiently rezone land for temporary uses; buildings serve a diverse mix of functions as needed; policing and prevention strategies are smart and data-driven; agencies share and seamlessly redeploy their IT assets; interoperable transport systems are optimized by real-time information; the energy network maximizes use of renewables while ensuring secure supply; and the education system quickly adapts to reflect the economy’s changing needs. — World Economic Forum report

Looking at all that is possible in this revolution, I believe the Fourth Industrial Revolution is just the beginning of making sure some of the most common issues facing societies today like inequality, hunger, climate crisis, unemployment and more, can be addressed with solutions.

This revolution is not about production and consumption, this revolution is about sharing and caring — Prof. Klaus Schwab

The most important is to make sure it is people-centric , let’s make sure people are engaged , the former revolutions were about production and consumption, it was about improving productivity and consuming, this technologies still lack the element of being human and this is the most critical point of all on how we can use them.

History tells us that the value shift is triggered by creation of a new story about how we want to live — Stewart Wallis, New Economics Foundation

Let’s discuss further at Sahara Sparks 2019!

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Vanessa Kisowile

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Dreaming after all is a great form of planning. Founder: @rebootedafrica @itravelar Lead: @sparksahara Championing: @afroshefound