OPINION: Will Africa be part of the fourth Industrial Revolution?
This year the focus of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos is the "Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution". Essentially this is a theme about the rapid changes that are happening in the technological space and how these will affect the way the world operates and the different ways economies will grow as more and more connectivity drives the way we do things.
How these changes affect the African continent will come down to adaptability and affordability. By adaptability we mean both that of the ability of the technology to adapt to the specific needs of people on the continent as well as how quickly the continent adapts to the new environment.
With many economies in Africa still in the lower to middle income bracket, affordability for the average person will be key if these technologies are to be widely adopted. Smartphones are likely to be the core device connecting and enabling the technology revolution in Africa - mobile broadband is how more than 97% of internet access currently takes place on the continent. The price for entry level smartphones has fallen significantly below US$50 and many users now shun the feature phones that provided limited access to applications and were a more affordable step up from older technology. Nearly 30% of mobile connections in Africa are from smartphones and this is likely to double over the next four years. Affordability is therefore improving access significantly and this will enable Africa to be part of this new economic revolution.
But will Africa adopt these changes?
History shows us that people on the continent have been strong adopters of new technologies and that Africa has even leap-frogged existing developments. After skipping the rollout of land lines, mobile technology users were quick to see the benefits this could bring, especially mobile money. With more than half of all the mobile money platforms in the world, sub-Saharan Africa is leading the globe in rolling out financial products to masses of people who were previously excluded from this area of the formal economy.
Even if changes are needed to localise software or technologies, there are enough expert hubs with strong IT and engineering capabilities to do this.
Africa will therefore be a willing and able participant in the new developments that the fourth Industrial Revolution brings to the global economy.
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