industrial revolution policy
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Technology—embrace or fear it but don’t ignore its ability to transform your daily life and African economies.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 12/08/2020

We’ve spoken at length about the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and how it can improve health services, water management, food processes and electricity supply but Africa is yet to take up what more economically developed regions have already explored.  

It leaves us exposed and likely to miss the transition to the next round—yes, the fifth industrial revolution is already taking shape!

As a case in point, in South Africa a commission was mandated by the Presidency to coordinate the development of the country’s national response and action plan to deal with the 4IR.

The report was submitted to President Cyril Ramaphosa early last week; however, I’m sceptical on whether a government-led directive to a revolutionary culture will be effective.

The concept of the 4IR is about being innovative and agile and I’m yet to come across a regulatory or policy driven approach that reflects either of these notions.

Our saving grace is the make-up of the commission, which includes captains of industry from various sectors including telecoms, agriculture and energy who are likely to influence action regardless of government’s cautious approach.

Its deputy chair, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, has already called on South Africans to not just be users but also builders of 4IR technologies as an answer to manifesting the country’s new economy, which will in turn stimulate private investment.

In my view, we have the talent to drive this while keeping a close watch on the 5IR so as to be prepared to deliver on truly smart solutions relevant to our unique circumstance.  

Our talent and ability are demonstrated in programmes such as South Africa’s Silicon Cape Initiative, an NPO and ecosystem enabler for tech-powered start-ups, and in Nigeria where the Eko Innovation Centre has unveiled a smart meter initiative, the Lagos Smart Meter Hackathon 2020.

On a side note, there is still time for local talent to enter the Hackathon.

I’m sure you will join me in speculating on what Ramaphosa’s 30-member commission has delivered in their report, which has been described as a “landmark” product of research and multi-sectoral engagements.

Will implementation be quick and easily adapted to 5IR concepts or held to ransom by political interference? Of course, a measure of political influence is needed in terms of providing the basics that are crucial to delivering on the 4IR, for example, affordable energy and data, as I’d pointed out in a previous note.

Share your thoughts with me on your social media channels and tag ESI-Africa while using the hashtag #4IR.

Until next week.
Nicolette