Sunday 18 April 2021
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The fourth industrial revolution: will Africa benefit?

The Davos Forum 2019 took place last week under the over-arching theme: The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Klaus Schwab, the convenor of the Forum, in 2016 wrote a book titled: The Forth Industrial Revolution.
In this book he examined the impact of technological revolution on people’s lives. He asserted that the technological revolution is blurring lines between the physical, biological and digital spheres. Technology is changing the way the people live, work and interact. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in new technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, quantum computing, 3D printing and the technologies of clean growth.
Artificial intelligence is threatening the livelihood of workers. Assembly lines in factories are being manned by robots. The future of work is changing.
Workers are required to learn new skills for them to find new jobs. The Internet of things which interconnects things via the internet is enabling objects to send and receive data.
Through the internet of things, things are networked.  Home appliances that contain electronics are connected and exchange data. Cars, security systems, electronic appliances, alarm systems and other things containing electronics are inter-connected for the convenience of users.
3D Printing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. This technology enhances additive manufacturing, a process that saves time.
Clean growth technologies are bringing about a clean energy transition revolution and sustainable growth which protects the environment.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution was preceded by the Third Industrial Revolution of the 1960s.The Third Industrial Revolution was ushered in by the invention of the semi-conductors, personal computers and the internet. The Third Industrial Revolution is also known as the Digital Revolution.


The Second Industrial Revolution of the 1800s was characterised by mass production in the industrial countries. Steel production, exploitation of oil, invention of telephones and of the internal combustion engines, just to mention a few.  The First Industrial Revolution took place in Britain in mid 1700s. This was triggered by the invention of steam engine which enabled new manufacturing processes which led to the creation of factories.
Africa so far has failed to fully embrace the benefits of various inventions. The only invention Africa embraced fully is gun-powder which freedom fighters used to fight colonialism and in post independent Africa enabled soldiers to commit coups or is used by African leaders to suppress their own citizens.
Those who wish to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution must understand that knowledge is power. The top priority of Africa should therefore be quality education for African citizens. Investment in Education will enable the African people to master the body of knowledge required at least to apply the new technologies for the benefit of the African people. 3G Printing will enable Africa to address urban housing and other infrastructures. Quantum computing will help Africa to understand complicated relationships of climate change, food production, protection of bio-diversity, fighting deceases, and many complex relationships in social, biological and physical environments.
The Internet of Things will help African governments, for example, to control their inventories and curb corruption. Clean growth promotes solutions that protect the environment.
However, Africa would better master the inventions of earlier Industrial Revolutions. The Japanese and South Koreans mastered the engineering technology.
Their vehicles, for example, are one source of their wealth. Huawei technology in China is a source of tension in geo-politics. Africa’s dependence on non-renewable resources such as oil, minerals and other commodities is a curse to the future generations.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution should therefore be a wake-up call to serious African leaders.
The future wellbeing of Africa is in brain power. Education, research and development must take a centre stage in the priority investments.
Our institutions of higher learning should be turned into laboratories of knowledge creation and application. African Universities should create synergies with reputable research institutions for the purpose of capacity building.
Africa is faced with basic challenges of food security and nutrition, infant and maternal mortality, sanitation, decent housing, poverty, inequality, youth unemployment, deceases, and similar existential challenges. To address such challenges Africa needs a focused leadership. A leadership which is people centred, futuristic and innovative in thinking and action.
The future of the African people is in peril. It is high time Africa wakes up from its long slumber and be counted.
The world now is driven by the forces of winner takes all. Africa will be left with nothing when the rents from the extractive industries dry up! In this regard Africa will be a loser. A new slave trade will emerge as hungry Africans will desert the African Continent in search of livelihood elsewhere.
Africa must therefore fully embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution and select those new technologies which are fit for purpose. In particular, clean growth technologies could enable Africa to harvest a variety of clean energy technologies to its benefit.
Bertrand Piccard, A Swiss explorer, aviator and entrepreneur established the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions which is selecting and promoting 1000 solutions for clean growth. Africa should partner with this organisation and be the leader in clean growth.
This is an opportunity not to be missed! Our leaders should shepherd us into Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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