Countries in Africa have an opportunity to surpass developed nations when it comes to adopting the technologies that are driving the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
These were some of the sentiments expressed by stakeholders from across Africa at a high-level seminar hosted by the African Development Bank at its headquarters in Abidjan.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of the digital, biological and physical worlds, where artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, blockchain, 3D printing, the “internet of things” and advanced wireless technologies see increased development worldwide. This revolution promises to bring about transformative changes that Africa cannot afford to miss.
“Any big city in Africa is pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of the world, with its mix of fiber, 3G, 4G and even 5G,” said Stefan Nalletamby, Acting Vice President for the Private Sector, Infrastructure and Industrialization Complex at the African Development Bank.
“Our goal is not to match our peers in the developed countries, but to surpass them…The African Development Bank is ready to walk the talk and lead the efforts for the digital transformation of the continent,” Nalletamby said in his keynote address.
The fourth industrial revolution report
While historically lagged on earlier industrial revolutions, countries across the continent have a better chance of taking advantage of the opportunities arising from technological advancements, says a report on the fourth industrial revolution presented at the event.
The report, funded by the African Development Bank and carried out by the Technopolis Group, highlights key developments in the African tech sector. For example, the report shows that approximately 6,500 technology start-ups were identified on the continent in 2019, among which about 10% develop applications that characterize the fourth industrial revolution.
Francie Sadeski, partner and lead in emerging markets at Technopolis believes the foundation has been laid for African countries to leverage fourth industrial revolution opportunities.
“The figures exceed forecasts and indicate that the basis for Africa’s growth into the fourth industrial revolution is already there,” she said during a presentation on the report.
Another takeaway from the report is that venture capital of more than $100 million was invested in African Internet of Things start-ups by 2019. This also means that IoT is the most attractive 4IR technology for investors on the continent.
The IoT market is projected to reach a value of $12.6 billion by 2021 in Africa and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, about $47 million was invested in Additive Manufacturing in Africa by 2019 while artificial intelligence startups and blockchain startups attracted respectively $17.5 million and $14.9 million in 2019.
The report further indicates that Africa needs to invest in human capital in order to realise the benefits of 4IR, which urgently require more graduates in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM).
“[Institutions must] instill entrepreneurship in youths and teach them how to create business plans…We need schools that give exposure to our youths…We need to build ecosystems around various schools. It’s one thing to build technology, but it’s another to have viable business models,” said Djibril Ouattara, CEO of MTN Côte d’Ivoire.
According to a World Bank report on the future of the work in Africa, the adoption of digital technologies could help firms grow, and create more jobs for everyone, “not just a privileged few.”