How the 4th Industrial Revolution will Accelerate Africa’s Industrialization

By Nvulane Nhlapo (@NvulaneNhlapo)

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash
Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

The fourth industrial revolution translates directly into the acceleration of Africa’s industrialization and the impact it will have across a distributed range of industries as well as the overall technological landscape. It has changed a lot of things and will continue to drive more changes into our lives.

The revolution will transition Africa from the edges to the core of global economy, and technology will be a crucial player. As Africa’s technology ecosystem continues to evolve, it will fuel developments in Africa’s industrialization. The 4th industrial revolution will be a powerful agent for good.

The fourth industrial revolution has blended the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological; between human and artificial, and also between human and super-human. It incorporates: Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Big Data, Nanotechnology, 3D Printing, Robotics and Research and Development.

These features will better promote interest in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and entrepreneurship which will drive towards building a human capital necessary for the industrialization of the continent. These will also help Africa bridge the skills gap and have a pool of highly-skilled talent necessary to sustain the fourth industrial revolution.

What is more, AI will better recruit the right people. These will be a key driver for industrialization as there will be a need for more capable and skilled workers. AI will be utilized to help inform hiring and promotion decisions without the unseen prejudice of humans.

At the same time, the revolution will call for more workers to seek high-end specialist technology skills instead of committing years at a college or university. This has already been enabled by various online platforms that combine academic rigor and industry expertise via an agile, learning-by-doing approach.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, internet users doubled in Africa in the past four years. Africa’s smartphone users are also set to reach 540 million by 2020. Increased access to the internet will create a true global village, bringing more people into the global economy.

There’s no doubt that these improvements will expand access to products and services to entirely new markets. There will also be a possible decrease in imports while more dialogs to improve intra-Africa trade will stem. Even better, through 3D printing, more local products will be produced at a larger scale.

Innovation levels will also increase. New business models will emerge. People will get new identities as they see more potential for themselves that wasn’t previously available. These will be an opportunity to learn and earn in new ways.

Besides, the Internet of Things market is growing exponentially in Africa. With the newly certified 802.11ac Wave 2 standard Wi-Fi designed for free public access in cities, there will be more practical IoT deployments, particularly for industrial sustainability. These will also expedite the use of virtual reality modelling over Wi-Fi in localized environments, like manufacturing businesses.

Cherian Varghese, Vice-President and MD: Africa at Oracle stated, “The cloud is technically made for Africa. Never in the history of the continent has a technology been so pertinent to meet its needs.” Artificial Intelligence, the benefits of blockchain technologies, the promise of cloud, and what digitization can achieve towards Africa’s industrial development will be beyond belief.

Big Data will guide businesses to the next decision based on the data and that is where AI will come into play. Being able to use voice, combined with machine learning to interact with complex data will be a huge benefit in businesses. These will give much confidence. Excessive time spent on debating, scoping, testing every new innovation, and discussions on reaching business decisions will be mitigated.

Additionally, the fourth industrial revolution will foster better facilitation of research and development within businesses. It will expedite technological innovations. The plethora of tools at the disposal of various companies will add value and boost competitiveness. More tools are going to allow people to work productively with lesser reliance on outside expertise.

Ultimately, industrial development in Africa through the fourth industrial revolution will most likely create new opportunities, more jobs and contribute to poverty alleviation. A large percentage of youth will move from underemployment to being active players in the economic game. Investments in the technological infrastructure will also pay well and continue to drive improvements.

Interestingly, there has been first movers in embracing the fourth industrial revolution in Africa with proven colossal investment capital already paying off. The TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa winners in the social good category, AgroCenta, are helping more than 8,000 farmers in Africa to improve the agricultural value chain.

In particular, small farmers in rural areas are facing many challenges to access large markets. The startup is helping them cut out the middlemen, and optimize truck deliveries to large markets. When farmers get an order, they can handle all the logistics through AgroCenta. More importantly, many farmers can now generate decent revenue, which leads to a better standard of living.

In 2015, The Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) teamed up with IBM and Wavetec, to build a coffee-traceability solution based on analytics, mobile and internet of things (IoT) technology. The IoT solution tracks coffee through all stages of the supply chain. The full traceability helps firms in the coffee business obtain fair-trade and organic certification for their products.

More deployments utilizing the state-of-the-art technologies will present more opportunities that will position Africa to become a main player in the world economy.