Africa’s Opportunity to Lead in the 4th Industrial Revolution

Published on 16th July 2019

General Yoweri Museveni`s progressive vision of harnessing and integrating African economies ahead of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is truly inspirational. Some would quip that while Europe was inventing the steam engine and building circuit board factories in the 2nd and 3rd Industrial Revolutions, Africans were still hunting animals with spears and drumming and dancing around fires at night. Yes, Africans can entertain themselves. Yes, Africans like good food especially good meat. But that is not the whole story. Those same European historians probably won’t acknowledge that for hundreds of years, Europeans systematically depopulated Africa of its young into gulags in the new world. Africa’s youth produced the raw materials that fuelled European industrialisation.

Africa’s mineral and other wealth fuelled the next phase of industrialisation when the West forcefully dominated and destabilised Africa. In spite of political independence, African nations remained victims of exploitation, recipients of technology, and recipients of the products of technology. They participated in the global economy as inferiors. Or as His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni says, “as slaves.” Africans neither participated in the market of ideas nor did they invest in the future or lead in technical sectors.

The narrative has begun to change since about the year 2000. We have had fewer than twenty years to catch up. But catch up, we will. Africa has the unique fortune of having an abundance of natural and human resources. With 1.2 billion people and most of them young people growing up as native technologists, there is, suddenly, a unique opportunity to lead in generating and translating new ideas through technology and innovation. Africa has a greater opportunity at adopting new technologies to achieve unimaginable leaps on the development axis.

Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Block chain, Quantum Computing, Biotechnology, Bioinformatics, and 3D Printing are some of the technologies changing the global economy, global governance, and even global security. Coupled with rapid automation, these technologies are significantly modifying our existing traditional notions of governance and development. The advances in science, technology, and innovation are shaping the world faster than many industries and governments can react or have reacted to. They are introducing new possibilities, new efficiencies, and new risks.

Countries are now faced with the task of preparing themselves to fully participate in this new global economy. The good news is that the Western countries aren’t far along. We are all learning within the same scales. But let us briefly consider the imperatives–why Africa should prepare itself for 4IR.

Most of Africa’s development challenges have to do with weak institutions; bad or ineffective policies; failures to leverage the possibilities of trade, integration, and other forms of cooperation; corruption (including the misuse of national resources, the misuse of aid, illicit financial flows); perceived or real injustices including land and property disputes; failures in developing human capital, and failures in public service delivery. Think about the real value of those inefficiencies and losses in monetary terms.

According to an African Union report, corruption alone costs Africa upward of $150 billion; misuse of aid upward of $20 billion; bad or ineffective policies billions of dollars; misuse of resources and illicit financial flows, billions of dollars; failure to develop human capital, hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of future earnings. Added to that, corruption alone increases the cost of investment, the cost of doing business, and it can also foster civil unrest which is always inordinately expensive. The lack of financial inclusion and inefficient revenue mobilisation within countries make it even harder to break cycles of poverty. Agriculture, small-scale manufacturing, trade, energy generation, infrastructure and city planning, healthcare, immigration, education, social welfare, banking, and even efficient governance are all possible use-cases that can benefit from these new technologies.

By Julius Maada Bio,

President of the Republic of Sierra Leone.

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