By Joseph Nkurunziza
We are inevitably on the brink of a technological revolution; the fourth industrial revolution. This is an important and powerful global shift that recognizes the need to realign business processes as well as government policies to technological advances in order to effectively meet goals. Technology is exponentially influencing our lives on a daily basis and in future it is not expected to relent but will in fact alter some of the more sophisticated human tasks such as driving a car by offering self-driven vehicles. It is also expected to make positive impacts on important sectors such as health, infrastructure and environment to improve service delivery.
The fourth industrial revolution is an opportune time for African states to catch up with their European, American and Asian counterparts. Technological advances based on digital networks have somehow leveled the playing field for Africans to be able to develop important solutions tailored to the African context. At the just ended World Economic Forum, delegates emphasized the need to adopt the revolution to transform economies and improve the lives of citizens in Africa. Indeed the revolution if well adopted, I believe stands the chance to achieve better standards of living for Africans while providing employment to the growing youthful population – many of whom are educated but lack employment opportunities.
While previous industrial revolutions largely by passed the African continent because African states were unable to effectively harness their potential, Africa should this time around prepare adequately to make the most of the fourth industrial revolution. There is hence a need to ask ourselves one fundamental question: what will it take to sustainably adopt the fourth industrial revolution to improve lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Africa?
To answer this, we must recognize that the revolution will not function in a vacuum. There are many factors that will influence the uptake of the latest digital technologies in Africa. Poverty, governance issues including corruption and climate change are paramount to address if Africa is going to make the most out of the revolution.
Poverty is a barrier for African economies to effectively harness the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution. Poverty and its corollaries – hunger, diseases and lack of proper education – have a negative impact on the ability of people to exploit available opportunities. It presents people with difficult day to day choices where having enough food to put on the table is the foremost priority. A large population of Africans is living below the poverty line and they happen to be the ones who can benefit most from advances in technology.
A unique trait of the revolution is the ability of people to not just use technology but create it to solve problems and improve quality of lives. Governments hence need to invest heavily in poverty alleviation programmes and institute policies that will give the poor an opportunity to take advantage of technological advances. As people are lifted out of poverty and empowered to use technology to solve problems, the ripple effect will be enormous on the economy. We will have more people solving age-old problems, creating wealth and ultimately contributing to poverty reduction.
Corruption is a cancer that has characterized many African governments for far too long and contributed to limited development. It is also one of the reasons why the continent did not benefit fully from previous industrial revolutions. Good governance is vital in addressing the issue of corruption. It calls for the participation of citizens in ensuring that leaders are accountable and governments as well as the civil society have role in educating citizens on the benefits of an inclusive government. Whatever advances can be achieved through technology need to be protected from regressing through corruption.
Climate change although a relatively novel issue in the development world, is having widespread effects that cannot be ignored even when we are debating matters of technology. The African continent contributes least to climate change compared to developed countries but stands to suffer most from its effects. As weather patterns become more erratic due to climate change, Africa’s poor population whose mainstay is agriculture is drawn farther into poverty. Poverty, as previously explained will limit adoption of the fourth industrial revolution.
Poverty, corruption and climate change need to be addressed to enable Africans to harness the immense benefits of the fourth industrial revolution. It is an uphill task but unless we recognize the importance of addressing these issues and investing in appropriate measures and systems, we risk – yet again – being by passed by the revolution.
Joseph@neveragainrwanda.org Twitter: @ryarasa