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Africa forever a passive 4IR consumer?

Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece entitled “Africa forever a passive 4IR consumer?” published on Cape Time news, 08 May 2019.

While Africans are preoccupied by the revolutions in the political realm that displaced veteran dictators, they appear apathetic to the global revolution in the technological realm. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is poised to widen global disparities. The impact will be increasingly influential in shaping the unfolding international system. The worrying fact about 4IR in Africa is that it is wrongly perceived as an elite narrative that should be left to engineers to handle.

According to the narrative, Africa ought to occupy itself with the task of catching up with the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions. As a result, African leaders, policymakers and parents continue preparing their youth for the 21st century with knowledge and skill sets that are germane to the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions. This leaves the continent unprepared and unco-ordinated to contribute meaningfully to the development of the technologies as well as the shaping of their rules, norms, values and regulations.

Given the sad state of affairs, Africa shall forever be a passive consumer in the 4IR. Unless drastic measures are taken to reverse the narrative, policies and education, technology-driven 4IR will further marginalise Africans. When African leaders met, on February 11 in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia under the banner of Digital Transformation for Africa: Leaping into the African Century, it was made clear that technology could tackle the challenges faced in education, health and agriculture.

The 4IR will change the way people live and work and the whole general human relations. As a young continent, Africa should feature prominently in adapting to the trends of 4IR. Unfortunately, structural limitations stymie the continent from playing a leading role. Outmoded education is hardly helpful in preparing young people for emerging trends. Another understandable factor that leaves Africa hamstrung in its quest to match global technological changes is that the continent grapples with providing basic amenities to its citizens. Under such circumstances, one would be tempted to prioritise the provision of amenities before setting lofty ideals of matching technological advancement.

While this is an explicable factor, it eschews the fact that Africa is a massive consumer of technology. It is patronising to expect Africa not to pursue trends sweeping the world. The unstated implication of such an argument is that separate, lower standards should be set for Africa because of its apparent inability to match the standards expected of other countries. To do so would only justify the listless governance of certain African regimes that would rather commit more resources in the sectors of security to protect their rule than invest in education in order to improve Africa`s chances of being on par with the rest of the world. The cases of technological advancement and provision of basic services need not be mutually exclusive.

By 2050, Africa is predicted to have the highest number of young people. It is thus incumbent upon Africa to seize trends that will shape the future of the world. This calls upon governments to invest more in sectors that use the innovativeness of Africa`s people. More than putting education at the disposal of the young, governments should enlist their insights in decision-making structures in the government, education and civil society. The tragedy of the continent is that while there are encouraging oustings of long-term and old leaders whose ideas no longer chime with current demands, those who replace them are people of their ilk. This does not bode well for a continent that needs fresh minds, eager to learn and by whom the opportunities, promises and threats of the 4IR are more readily felt.

*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.

dr david monyae
Dr David Monyae
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