Building Capacity in Africa for the 4th Industrial Revolution

The 4th Industrial Revolution which is characterized by automation and  the interconnectedness between the physical, digital and biological spheres is occurring at a fast rate.

The 4th Industrial Revolution builds on the Digital Revolution in which technology is heavily embedded in how we interact daily. The heavy reliance on technology and its development thereof, will see the emergence of faster ways of performing activities that previously relied heavily on human labour. Examples include artificial intelligence in which for example robots are used in manufacturing cars with more precision than a line of workers in a production workshop, or were an X-ray diagnosis is as accurate and fast as what is produced by a radiologist. Furthermore, we will see the emergence of autonomous vehicles which can detect the closeness of a human being or a vehicle and reduce traffic, or even 3D printing which introduces manufacturing of goods. Recently, South Africa saw artificial intelligence made manifest in the first ear surgery performed with a 3D printed middle ear bone.

The disruptions that come with technology and digitalization will have major impacts on key aspects such as education and skills development. For a developing continent like Africa, there will be major shifts and threats posed which require countries to be adequately prepared.

Rapid automation comes with a significant shift in the labour markets with the emergence of new and diverse tech jobs. Tech developments have seen the ceasing of manual labour to conduct activities such as a self-service system to process an order and payment in fast food restaurants and automation means that there is a system to conduct bookkeeping for a company instead of hiring a payroll worker and there are machine learning algorithms to process and analyse data to project consumer demands, trends, pricing, and therefore eliminate human effort.

At the core of these changes, there is a need for thorough preparation at ground level for African countries. As Minister of communications in South Africa Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams stated, businesses should maximise technology acquisitions to enable them to compete globally. Organizations ought to partner with disruptive technology companies in order to take advantage and occupy the digital space. Furthermore, it is imperative for companies to find ways to reinvent the business process.

It is without a doubt that there will be a need for new skills to be acquired by. An investment in skills development for their employees is needed. For example, Clothing retailers need to move into e-commerce and empower their staff with skills such as processing an online order. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills are a critical facet of participation in the 4th industrial revolution, so that employees are not displaced by this wave of digitalization. Employees will not lose jobs if upskilling happens.

There is also a need for an overall governmental architecture to support the 4th Industrial revolution. This means addressing the issues that hinder global competitiveness such as corruption and inequality. As it stands, South Africa is ranked 61 in terms of global competitiveness, by the Global Competitiveness Index. This position is affected by factors such as inequality, unemployment, and corruption.  Institutions such as World Economic Forum Africa, Ericsson and Boston Consulting Group, Cisco are supporting countries such as  Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda in Industrial Revolution aspects such as development of ICT policy, infrastructure implementation and cybersecurity. In the 4th Industrial Revolution were first world countries are already ahead, for African countries, this will mean importing skills for industrialization, and because Africa is fighting for development of its own people and protecting smaller developing industries, it makes sense for countries to opt for internal development of systems to empower its people. However, this model may not be economical  because resources ought to be preserved in emerging markets.  A better method would be, intra-continental trading to transfer skills within African countries. 50 countries have already having signed the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement which seeks a single continental market for goods and services. With free movement of business persons and investments, the development of Africa in fostering the 4th industrial revolution could potentially drive the economy in the continent. It is key to ensure that those that are still offline are connected to this evolving wave of technology. No one should be left behind.

African leaders should be commended for driving forward initiatives to create infrastructure for the 4th industrial revolution in Africa. Amongst these, is Rwanda, which has made some notable moves in welcoming digitalization. Telemedicine firm together with the government of Rwanda launched a mobile-based healthcare scheme focused on providing easy and quick access to live medical doctors and medical professionals via a mobile device.  Zipline, another company in Rwanda, delivers healthcare products through the use of drone services, and this was established as early as 2016. The world’s first drone port is found in Rwanda. In South Africa, 4IRSA (Fourth Industrial Revolution South Africa) was formed to lay a foundation for the June Digital Economy Summit in order to move from consuming the technology formed by other people. Skills will be cultivated to program tech machines. Furthermore, the Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa appointed a new Chief Directorate, the Future Industrial Production & Technologies (FIP&T) unit to facilitate the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution and assist government in building capacity to deal with such changes. In Namibia, international companies are developing interest in locally developed and based ICT applications. Namibia is focused on cultivating a society of knowledge were technology, innovation, entrepreneurship at every socio-economic level becomes the norm.

In order for Africa to successfully embrace and benefit from the 4th Industrial Revolution robust engagement with the subject matter by recognizing it as something that is actively occurring is required.


Featured image| Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in Analytics| Deepak pal | flickr

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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