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4IR uptake could hold the key to Africa’s economic recovery

​With the history of exclusion, slavery, colonialism, and perpetual denial into personhood, Africa and its Diaspora must cautiously celebrate the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). A key characteristic of revolutions is that they produce winners and losers. Africa and Africans shouldn’t accrue the same net negative impact as was the case with the past three industrial revolutions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now responsible for the creation of a new reality to which we all belong to.

This statement was made ahead of the forthcoming 2021 Africa and African Diaspora (AAD) Conference, during a virtual pre-conference held on Monday, 11 October 2021, at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), themed ‘The impact of 4IR on Africa and the African diaspora’.

In the course of the opening ceremony, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ Vice-Chancellor & Principal alongside Professors Anicia Peters (Namibia), Fernando Barque de Lima Neto (Brazil), Hopeton Dunn (Caribbean), Michael Williams (Europe) members of the diaspora and other eminent personalities were also present on this occasion.

In his keynote address, Prof Marwala highlighted that the conference has brought together members of the African diaspora from various academic fields to engage with their counterparts from international and other local universities. He observed that the conference is bound to be a unique forum for sharing of professional experiences and discussing a confluence of Pan-African initiatives across the world to congregate, exchange on and build a Pan-Africanism for the future.

He emphasised that there is a need for Africans and the African Diaspora to engage at the cutting edge of this Revolution to leapfrog themselves to a level where they can compete effectively in the development of the new economy of the future occasioned by 4IR with all its complexities and challenges.

“Throughout modern history Africa and its Diaspora were spectators rather than active participants”, he said. “AI is transforming the economy, revolutionising decisions with imperfect information, silencing the guns and improving water availability while at the same time it can harm people- which is why as leaders we need to establish and redefine our infrastructure,” explained Prof Marwala.

Speaking about the race in value chain for green hydrogen, the Namibian Professor Peters underscored that government and academia is developing a Human Interactive Curriculum for tech makers in AI across Africa. Challenges facing industry solutions require national partnerships and solidarity, that is why we have to take hands and walk together,” she added.

For their part, Prof Fernando, Williams and Dunn, pointed out that the diaspora can bring a very rich contribution to the development of Africa. Prof Fernando observed that the ‘Fourth Human Revolution’ can bring trade investment, increase capacity building with networking, encourage transfer of skills, knowledge and technology, which in turn can help shape the modern Africans.

He further stated that the diaspora’s expertise is much needed in areas such as blue economy, information technology, climate change, policy-making, green economy, robotics, and research. Prof Williams encouraged members of the academic diaspora to work in collaboration with African counterparts so as to contribute to the country’s development.

Conclusion outcomes were deliberated by Mr Lukhanyo Neer, Thabo Mbeki Foundation stating that as Africa experienced the cumulative effects of what has been termed the transatlantic slave trade, 4IR needs to assist Africa in ending poverty and inequality in all forms.

The 2021 Africa and African Diaspora Conference: From Manchester 1945 to a Pan-African Renaissance will take place on 28 – 29 October 2021, and bring together a confluence of Pan-African initiatives across the world to congregate, exchange on and build a Pan-Africanism for the future. These initiatives include the Pan-African vision of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and the provision for the African Diaspora as the 6th region of the AU, the increasing collaborations between the AU and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), CARICOM’s call for reparatory justice, the Black Lives Matter movements across the world and the UN International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024.

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