The only thing that worries Africa’s political and economic leaders about disruptive revolutions in industry, energy, trade and education is that they won’t be fast or big enough to keep up with growing demand for them.
“More than a century after Edison invented the light bulb, half of Africa is still in the dark,” says Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Abidjan. “We talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but it all starts with the need for electricity, which is like blood in the system. If we don’t have it, we can’t live.”
With 645-million Africans deprived of electricity, schools, hospitals and homes suffer. Some 600 000 women die each year from inhaling the smoke of cooking with wood or dung. To secure universal access by 2025, African heads of state have launched a new deal on energy, focused on power, potential and partnership. Revolutionary partnership may take several forms.
One is with industrial firms and foreign direct investment. Revolutions are public-sector-enabled, but private-sector-led. One of the most disruptive revolutions of the past decade came through mobile phone technology, now in the hands of 700-million Africans. “ICT is coming naturally into the whole continent,” says Hans Vestberg, president and CEO of Ericsson. “Broadband and cloud is coming into Africa. Almost all Africans will have smartphone five years from now. Think about what that can do for governance,” he says.
A second partnership is relationships with overseas nations. With excess labour and industrial capacity, and slowing growth, China looks towards Africa for new opportunities, which African countries seek to exploit. “The strategic platform between China and Africa is the best I’ve ever known,” says Hailemariam Dessalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia. “But emerging economies like China and India are no longer more competitive in labour, and it is the turn of Africa now,” he adds.
A third revolutionary partnership involves expanding regional commerce, currently only accounting for 11% of trade. Yet, falling global commodity prices elevate the risk of overseas exports, and open an opportunity to add value and reduce volatility through enhanced supply chain within the continent, “We know that, if we traded more goods among ourselves, we would have a lot of gains,” says Paul Kgame, President of Rwanda. “We don’t have to wait for these changes, but can easily compensate for what we’re losing overseas by concentrating on what is very close to us and what we can do among ourselves,” he says.
This tied into the fourth revolutionary partnership: with rural citizens and, in particular, women. Through every industrial revolution, people need to eat, and Africa holds 65% of the arable land left in the world. To process raw agricultural products like cocoa within the continent, Africa’s leaders can invest in farms as a business, half of which are run by women. By helping women link their products to markets, some $300-million in loans can leverage $3 billion in new potential.