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Fourth industrial revolution : Africa must catch up

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Fourth industrial revolution : Africa must catch up

For Africa to keep pace with the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), investing in human development is imperative. Political dedication to enhancing Africa’s human resources is crucial. Education stands out as the primary means for Africa to bridge the gap and align with the advancements of the 4IR.

Understanding Industry 4.0 : The fourth industrial revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is seen as the next stage in the digitization of the manufacturing sector. Pazion Cherinet, CEO and founder of OrbitHealth explains that « encouraging trends, such as increased data and connectivity, analytics, artificial intelligence and improvements in robotics, are leading Co and Orbit Innovation Hub to the fourth industrial revolution ».

Industry 4.0 epitomizes the contemporary technological epoch characterized by connectivity, advanced analytics, and automation in manufacturing. This transformative shift in manufacturing commenced in the mid-2010s and holds immense promise for operational enhancement and the future of production. While steam propelled the first industrial revolution and electricity propelled the second, automation and machinery drove the third. Now, intelligent computers are shaping the fourth industrial revolution.

Africa stands poised for advancement. Experts advocate that Africa must invest in its populace, prioritize education, and ensure that current and forthcoming generations receive education in digital systems on par with global standards to seize the opportunities of Industry 4.0.

Training and investing in a skilled workforce

With a majority of its workforce unskilled, Africa is once again being left behind. At the same time, the rest of the world is entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). « African countries need to support vocational training and put the right policies in place to reap the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution », advises Raymond Gilpin.

The economist believes that by investing in its most important resource, Africa can strategically catch up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This requires the development of dedicated policies aimed at training a generation of skilled workers capable of participating and innovating in digital revolutions across all sectors. By investing in the transformation of its human skills, Africa can reap the rewards of the 4IR in the decades to come.

Africa : Understand 4IR better to take advantage

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just about industrialization in Africa. It’s about how a shift in technology adoption could revitalize and influence exponential growth. Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, executive vice-president of the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET), says: « The fourth industrial revolution requires rethinking the adoption of new technologies, which is an opportunity, not a threat ».

« We like to talk about progress, but what we’ve done is move from low-productivity agriculture to low-productivity services. That won’t generate the jobs we desperately need », warns ACET’s executive vice-president. This economic specialist warns that African decision-makers need a deeper understanding of 4IR to harness its benefits.

Skills needed to step up the fourth industrial revolution

Research on 30 countries, representing 86.5 % of the continent’s GDP, reveals that the transformation challenges facing Africa include low labor productivity, mainly due to low skill levels.

Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi points out that there is a serious mismatch between skills and education systems in Africa. Africa needs to produce a workforce that meets the needs of business. In the future, this disparity will only worsen as the continent experiences a demographic explosion that will need to be trained to 4IR skill levels. Despite the current increase in exports, Africa needs to diversify its export products to match the global competitiveness of other Third World countries.

Only by investing in skills development can Africa hope for accelerated industrialization and a chance to remedy its profoundly low-skilled workforce. « In addition, Africa needs to invest in formal jobs that can be developed and improve service quality to compete on a global scale », comments Natalie Jabangwe, Chief Digital Officer at Sanlam, a world-renowned financial services company.

Training for current generations in modern technologies

Africa must prioritize its people, a process that will take time. This includes revising school curricula and ensuring universal education to improve literacy rates. Merely having a large population is insufficient; the workforce must be adept at adopting digital technologies.

To secure employment in future industries, Africa’s current generations must master technology.

Understanding Africa’s manufacturing value

Africa is able to increase its productivity thanks to its growing economies compared to the rest of the world. However, Africa’s productivity has not increased in the manufacturing sector, but rather in the export of raw materials, as is the norm.

« Africa’s manufacturing value has declined over the past 40 years », notes Rita Babihuga-Nsanze, Chief Economist and Director of Research and Strategy at the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC ). According to her, in the early 1980s, the manufacturing sector’s share of GDP was around 18 %, but this figure fell to 10 % of GDP by 2011, and the trend is worsening. We are witnessing a declining curve rather than an increasing trajectory for the manufacturing sector.

This has been attributed to a lack of capital, infrastructure and energy, as well as poor industrial policies.

More special economic zones in Africa

The economist highlights that the African Finance Corporation (AFC) has promoted the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as developmental blueprints for African nations to hasten their industrialization. However, she cautions that African policymakers must integrate SEZs into comprehensive national productivity strategies. Currently, countries are treating SEZs as isolated production hubs rather than models for broader national development.

To bridge the gap with the rest of the world and harness the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Africa must elevate SEZ models to national strategies.

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