QONDILE KHEDAMA: Are Africans afforded chances with tech?


The 31st of May marked the end of Africa Month celebrations in South Africa. This year’s festivities took place under unprecedented circumstances brought by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be an epiphany or an opportunity for the continent to explore advancing virtual ways of celebrating festivities attached to the month beyond the novel pandemic.

Listening to medical experts, it becomes apparent that the world at large will grapple with the remains of the pandemic for quiet some time. To date, the lockdown has redefined our lives in different ways, and given those circumstances we had to adjust to what is termed the “new normal”. The pandemic has equally accelerated the fourth industrial revolution - what would under normal circumstances be approached at a snail's pace.

However, celebrating Africa Month under lockdown would have given one an opportunity to be domesticated and enjoy exchanging historical information with born-frees who seem in most instances more interested in the future than reflecting on the past. Use of new technologies has become mandatory across generations. We have seen all sectors of life, from the arts, governments, to education exploring most platforms that new technologies offer. From Webiner, Zoom, to Teams, the product list to accommodate this need is long. Both private and public sectors are forced to assimilate if they are to keep afloat or relevant.

These virtual communication platforms not only assist with makeshift arrangements, they have also minimised potential tensions and bridged the gap between the authorities and the masses. Innovative ways came to the fore in ensuring that work and interactions are not severely interrupted among stakeholders during strenuous circumstances posed by the pandemic.

The fourth industrial revolution presented further opportunities for greater integration of the virtual and physical worlds, with resultant enhancement for the global economy - if we use it to our advantage. That is only when we will be able to access new knowledge, ideas and processes directly to large audiences globally.

Technology can enhance human capability by enabling greater access to knowledge resources at much lower costs.

In their paper titled “Empowering labour force in technology driven era: An Indian context”, Ruth Kattumuri and Shantanu Singh point out that “institutions and individuals embrace the rapidly evolving technological innovations as they enable resource efficiency and are beneficial overall. Advancements in technologies have created new types of employment and opened various opportunities globally and brought in dynamic changes to the way people work”.

Africa has equally experienced innovation and creativity in the process. This became evident when the novel pandemic could not prevent African artists from celebrating with their fans. During coronavirus, all events were cancelled, dealing a violent blow to the entertainment and arts industry worldwide.

Using innovation during lockdown, artists in Africa managed to observe lockdown rules and stay in touch with their fans, coming up with creative ways to continue performing and entertaining them. Some have used social media, while others have hosted virtual concerts to ply their trade. One of the social media accounts used to showcase artists was the Music in Africa Twitter page. The page was created for networking and information for musicians across the continent. It highlighted upcoming events and also collated experiences that had already taken place.

We cannot lose sight, though, of discernible challenges faced by the continent as a result of poverty. The reality is that there are quite a number of issues that Africa still has to acknowledge and consider.

Kattumuri and Singh again make critical observations in the same paper that the increasing adoption of automation and artificial intelligence poses challenges to labour force participation and requires proactive policies to ensure inclusiveness and growth in order to achieve the sustainable development goals.

COVID-19 has laid bare inequalities in our societies and calls for those at the helm to effect policy changes so that others can continue to benefit from what is a shining continent.

Qondile Khedama is a communications practitioner, social commentator and writer.