Wednesday 21 April 2021
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Rethinking industrialisation in the digital age

Industrialisation, an old age phrase of the 17th century is still being used by many countries in the developing world as they pursue to become first world countries. The advancement of digital tools, technologies such as big data, internet of everything (IoE), machine learning are fast changing the value proposition of manufacturing. Therefore, influencing many countries to rethink what it means to industrialise. Moreover, it’s important for developing countries to focus on the future, thus leapfrog and transform their economies instead of going back in time to pursue industrialisation. This article describe industrialisation as an outdated transformation of the steam age with no relevance in today’s digital economy. Moreover, the article also provide recommendations on how developing economies like Namibia can reposition themselves in the digital economy by leveraging on digital technologies and techniques.
Industrialisation can be traced as far as the steam age, where it was used to primarily re-organise society from an agrarian to one that manufactures its own goods faster. This was important 400 years ago because the manufacturer was the one setting the prices of the goods he/she produces. Additionally, by automating work that was previously performed by humans, industrialisation brought about efficiency in the production of goods.  However, this is no longer the case, value proposition has changed from manufacturing to the service sector. Hence, economies world over, are re-organising themselves, identifying a niche in the service sector, which they can export to the world. One such classical example is Estonia, a small country of about to 1.3 million people, which emerged from the fall of Soviet Union. Before gaining its independence in 1991, Estonia was a very poor country facing multiple challenges, stemming from more than half a century of under-development by the Soviet union.
Nevertheless, after independence Estonia focused on integrating Information communication technologies (ICT) in every aspect of life with the intentions of reducing government spending, at the same time improving quality of life of all Estonians. Unlike many countries, which invest huge chunks of money in their defense force, Estonia didn’t for a simple reason that the future of security will be taken care by machines and robotics such as unmanned vehicles (drones) and fighting robots. Moreover, by investing in ICT a Estonia was able to not only able to bring about efficiency in its government but create a niche market for herself. Today, Estonia is a world leader in terms of e-governance solutions, exporting e-governance as a service to other countries.
Coming back to Africa, Rwanda a small east African country, which came from civil war that nearly destroyed the nation is leading the African renaissance of rethinking industrialisation in the digital age. From drones delivering essential medical services to a full 4G connected Kigali, Rwanda is showing Africa the way to digital transformation. Today, because of ICT poor people in rural areas have access to critical medicine and children in the slams have access to widely distributed knowledge and information of the world through the Internet.
Despite the global trends, many African countries are still stuck in the past, Namibia included. It hurts me so much to hear political leaders talking about Namibia being a manufacturer, do they know what they are saying or at least what it means to be a manufacturer? With the high cost of living and 2 million population, how can Namibia compete with other nations? More importantly there will be nothing new that Namibia will manufacture that has not been manufactured already. Therefore, it’s my strong conviction that the future of Namibia is in the service sector, providing efficient and effective services to the region and the world.
However, we cannot become a service driven economy if we do not invest enough in ICT. I know those in government will counter this by saying, we have built roads linking our ports to landlocked countries in the regions, enabling them to use our ports and corridors to transport their goods. However, to efficiently and effectively transport goods, ICT is needed to monitor and track the movement of goods to ensure reliable delivery. ICT can also be applied in agriculture, enabling local farmers to learn from each other, therefore empower each other to contain outbreaks faster and increase their yields.  Our leaders can live in the past or denial but no doubt, ICT is the only tool that can help transform our economy. Thus, help us leap frog into the fourth industrial revolution.

*Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc.
Computer Science

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