Why Tech partnerships offer the best options for African development

Technology offers the best opportunity for Africa’s advancement, and African countries have the right to choose which countries and companies they partner with to pilot the technological development of their people. 

This was one of the messages that emerged from a webinar hosted by the University of Johannesburg earlier this week. Titled, “Gearing Africa for the 4th Industrial Revolution: Patterns, Prospects, and Lessons,” the event was attended by stakeholders from business, academia, civil society, and the media.

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Invited Stakeholders shared insights on the continent’s future and the role of technology in achieving its fast developmental goals.

The onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents enormous opportunities for African development. However, it comes against the backdrop of a trade war between China and the United States that has majorly seen Tech Companies such as Huawei, ZTE a centerpiece for negotiations.

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Noting the advantages that the 4IR offers for Africa’s development – such as precision agriculture and bridging the digital divide, the speaker and event chair Dr. David Monyae note that the continent’s infrastructure limits its ability to embrace 4IR

“To surmount this dearth,” he said, “the continent needs to learn from the lessons of more advanced countries, and identify partnerships that might be to its advantage.”

Dr. David Monyae, Executive Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies,

Dr Monyae added that this would be a trying task for Africa as he said: “The current international system is fraught with disagreement on technologies, with countries such as the United States ranged against more ambitious countries in the field of technology, such as China.”

In his address, UJ Vice-Chancellor Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala and deputy chairperson of South Africa’s Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution noted the potential of technology to turbocharge development.

UJ VC Prof Tshilidzo Marwala
UJ Vice-Chancellor Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala During the e-Webinar

He listed eight areas the Commission was focused on, where 4IR could reduce inequality in South Africa, but he emphasized the urgency of taking action. 

“Covid-19 has shown us how vital technology is for the future,” he said. “But gaps still exist in infrastructure – as they did during the first three industrial revolutions. The time to invest in technology is now, we cannot wait to adapt.”

Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala – UJ Vice-Chancellor

Edward Zhou, Huawei’s Vice President of Global Public Affairs, noted that despite some progress, there remained a significant digital divide preventing Africa’s people from seizing the advantages of the 4IR.

He said 28 million students in Sub-Saharan African were without internet connectivity, and more than 110 million people had no access to financial services.

“Bringing these people into the digital economy is dependent on connectivity and here, cloud-based architecture is important, as well as more fibre connectivity to villages and other sites,” said Zhou.

He further said that, Huawei had been an established technology partner across Africa since 1997, and looked forward to continuing these relationships in pursuing 4IR in Africa. 

“We have also partnered with more than 400 universities across Africa in giving training to more than 15 000 students,” he said.

In his address, Thang Nguyen-Quoc, an economist at the OECD Development Centre, pointed out that the resources available for development in Africa had not kept up with population growth, and that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, over 8 African countries were already in debt distress. 

He further added that foreign direct investment in Africa was set to fall by 25% to 40% due to the pandemic. However, said that digital investment offered far more effective returns than other sectors. 

In conclusion, Dr Monyae asserted that, for Africa’s digital advancement to come to fruition, it needed a global environment conducive to the continent’s development. 

“For Africa to develop, it must have sovereignty,” he said. “However, there is no need to retreat from globalization. Protectionism at global level won’t succeed, and it will not be good for the continent.”

Tech Startups as key drivers to Africa’s development success, the continent must not be pro-Beijing or Pro-Washington, but pro-development at all costs to support budding solutions to build strategic yet strong partnerships.


4IR – Fourth Industrial Revolution

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