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The fourth industrial revolution: Where is Africa’s seat at the table?

13.02.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Africa has a large and fast-growing population. While there is a constant need to ensure that Africans are not behind the technological curve, the Fourth Industrial Revolution provides that platform. There is a gap between Africa and the rest of the world in terms of technological advancements, income levels, skills development, manufacturing and a number of other sectors. But the Fourth Industrial Revolution offers Africa opportunities to accelerate economic transformation into higher rates of productivity and growth.

WHAT IS THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the fourth industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. It is characterized by a combination of technologies that is distorting the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres. It is also described as the advent of cyber-physical systems involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines. In other words, the Fourth Industrial Revolution represents an entirely new way in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even our human bodies.

The first Industrial Revolution is widely taken to be the shift from our reliance from animals, human effort and biomass as primary sources of energy to the use of fossil fuels and the mechanical power this enabled. The Second Revolution brought major breakthrough in the form of electricity distribution, wireless and wired communication, the synthesis of ammonia and other new forms of power generation. The Third Revolution was the development of digital systems, communication and rapid advances in computing power which have enabled ways of generating, processing and sharing information.

In many parts of the world, including in some parts of the African continent, aspects of the Second and Third Revolutions are yet to be realized and this creates a disjuncture in terms of a consolidated effort to move the continent forward, but this does not necessarily mean that as a continent, Africa will not take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the necessary changes it comes with.

Industrial revolution stages from steam power to cyber physical systems, automation and internet of things

HOW CAN AFRICA TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION?  

Electricity plays a major role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and access to electricity must always be on top of the agenda for African countries and this was acknowledged in the recent heads of states of the Southern African Community Development (SADC) meeting.

The continent of Africa has always been seen at the late comers especially on technological advancement, industrialization, globalization and if it aims to maintain the “Africa raising” momentum, there are a couple of things in needs to get right.

The development of digital skills is paramount. This will not only ensure that the continent is on par with the rest of the world with digital innovations but that the skills are transferred to the coming generations. All industries need to be digitally disrupted in order to take advantage of the opportunities that a growing digital economy presents. There also needs to be strong public-private partnerships to ensure that there are strong levers for change.

Beyond skills development, supporting the ICT sector in the continent will provide a major economic stimulus and growth, productivity and consequently much need employment.

But there are other areas where technological advancements will bring major change to the continent including, but not only limited to, construction, agriculture, healthcare, education especially early development, telecommunications, security, finance and hospitality.

Innovation and the entrepreneurial drive is key to Africa’s future and its active participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But equally, industrialization efforts require well-administered, supportive public policies and an effective administrative systems that would be able to carry the load that comes with these technological changes.

But ultimately, the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be used by Africa to become a full player in the world economy.

A PREPARATION FOR THE MODERN WORLD WITH AFRICA AT THE FRONT

The reality is that there is little data and research on the kinds of jobs that the Fourth Industrial Revolution would create and which it will diminish or completely destroy. There is also an argument from analysts that the current Revolution stands to leave a large part of the African population behind because of the lack of the required skills to participate, but those countries who invest in research and innovation stands to be the ones to benefit the most from the opportunities that arise from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

But there are couple of things Africans needs to get right in order to have an effective role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Firstly it will be to capitalize on the opportunities and this will require a concerted effort from African governments. Rapid growth in manufacturing, agro-industry and tradable services requires access to larger markets, hence the imperative of progress with regard to Africa’s regional economic integration.

The private sector needs effective government support, such as tax incentives and institutional reforms, to lower transaction costs in customs and business regulation to offset the costs for first movers.

And ultimately, there needs to be a concerted efforts to combat corruption or perceived corruption that is related to procedures, legislation, trade and innovation of new technologies to ensure that citizens are the ones who will benefit much from this Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Article from AFRIC Editorial 

Credit image : google images/Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa

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