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Africa and the 4th Industrial Revolution

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Africa should use the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution to transform itself into a full partner on the global stage, said Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, speaking the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa.

“Africa should not be still playing catch-up when the fifth revolution comes around, he adds.

Kagame calls for “a continent free of pity and apprehension, a place of opportunity and partnership.”

The transformative power of technology lies at the core of the vision of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, as articulated by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Kagame adds. However, it should be understood that technology is not a “magic bullet” in itself, but a tool for wisely tackling the challenges faced by Africa.

On a practical level, digital solutions in financial markets need to be significantly scaled up, said Kagame. Efficient, reliable and stable capital markets are key to providing access to funding for growth, and ICT makes such markets viable. At the same time, he adds, development and growth are about more than machines – Africa’s people are an enormous resource – and can be achieved through “good politics and accountability”.

Kagame says it is a myth that there is only one acceptable way to build a just and equitable society. But, whatever path is followed, the key leadership requirement is “clear-headed realism”.

Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), and a co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, says that Africa has “no choice but to be ambitious” in embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He said that one of the greatest priorities for the continent is universal electrification to allow digital technology to play its role in transforming lives. “Africa is tired of being in the dark. This is why the African Development Bank will spend $12.5 billion in the next five years on its New Deal in Electricity,” adds Adesina.

It is crucial that the Fourth Revolution “does not leave anyone behind,” says Graça Machel, founder of the Foundation for Community Development (FDC), and a co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa. The first three revolutions left Africans as a whole behind, with women in particular being abandoned.

It is not humanitarian to be inclusive towards women, says Machel. It makes business and common sense – as they make up half the population and bring different skills and perceptions to bear on challenges. She echoes Adesina’s call for urgency. “We need change now. We are very good at drawing up policies, but very weak at implementation,” she says.

Machel also urges a revolution in education, as did Dominic Barton, global MD of McKinsey & Company, and a co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, who said the four-year college qualification model is not serving Africa particularly well. Barton suggested fast-track, “four- to six-week” specialist courses to get young people into businesses and the real economy as soon as possible.