Propelling Africa in the age of 4IR

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By: Iqbal Survé

In the preamble to the 2019 World Economic Forum on Africa, it’s noted that at least 20 African countries will undergo elections this year. This is an important milestone in Africa’s evolution and one that can bring about significant progress, especially with Africa finding itself on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,
where change and progression will be inevitable. How fast and how meaningful this progress will be depends on a number of factors, not least of all voting forward-thinking governments into power across the continent – governments that can grasp the possibilities of digital and how it can advance their countries and Africa as a whole.

It is not a government’s role to create jobs, but it is necessary to have the right political will to construct the frameworks that are necessary for growth across the board – whether environmental or economic. In today’s digital world, it’s also increasingly important for governments to collaborate with each other, particularly in
light of developments in cross-border payments and the like. Of equal standing is the need for the public and private sectors to work together in producing the solutions needed.

The recently signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement is a case in point. While it took nearly two decades to structure and sign, the Agreement has finally put Africans in charge of their own development and – while there is still a technical minefield to navigate, as Africa faces problems of instability – the will is there to promote an exchange between the 54 countries that comprise the continent.

Africa might be the newest kid on the block, but it is also one of the most resourceful and innovative. African ingenuity is legendary and, with the right frameworks in place, all Africans can shape their shared future – for Africa.

For many Africans, that future is already here – as is 4IR – and our time for readying for the future is past. Today is what matters. How we see the future starts in the now and, right now, we need to ensure that all Africans can access information and knowledge – when and where they want to.

Digital is changing the world around us by the second. From the types of goods and services produced, how they are accessed, and how we communicate with one another, to how we access excellent education via e-learning platforms, 4IR is making it possible for everyone on the continent to be included. It’s not utopia – yet – as many on the continent still do not have access to the infrastructure needed to be connected, many marginalised groups are deliberately excluded,

and the existing workforce fear they are being replaced by robots. Any discussion around 4IR and Africa, therefore, needs to take today’s unskilled labour force into account. How are we going to include them in the conversation going forward? What are the skills needed to safeguard income security in the now, and in the future?

WEF on Africa 2019 will bring together some of the continent’s brightest minds and change-makers to address the theme of “Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. I, for one, am looking forward to hearing how we can work together to ensure that Africa takes its rightful place in the digital world. I hope you will join me.