Tracking the revolution: Africa’s 4IR adoption

The pandemic has accelerated the growth of Africa’s digital sector but it’s a long way from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


A year before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, the president of the African Development Bank made an interesting statement concerning Africa’s economic growth. The interview centred on industrialisation in sectors such as agriculture, energy and infrastructure. Akinwumi Adesina, while acknowledging the then projected over 4% growth, said the continent needed to go beyond its current survival growth and reach what he termed ‘prosperity growth’ by advancing at “double digits”.

However dreamy, there are three reasons this kind of statement should not be dismissed. The first is, it did not confine itself to any time frames. Secondly, it was uttered during a pre-pandemic world in which no one could have predicted the impending devastation which would subsequently cause the continent to contract by 2.1% in 2020, experiencing its first recession in half a century. Thirdly, despite the many challenges of instability facing the continent, it’s the kind of sentiment that’s been articulated by many an expert. Several reports have for over a decade described Africa as the ‘next frontier for investment’, the modern-day land of milk and honey.

Africa’s potential

This level of optimism is backed by the continent’s magnificent potential in incomparable mineral wealth and exponential digital innovation. In 2020, governments and businesses alike achieved some remarkable exploits in the latter. At the height of global lockdowns as the world struggled to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, African countries relied on novel developments to effect crucial protective measures. In the area of AI and robotics, for example, Rwanda’s smart robots read vitals, conducted temperature screenings and created awareness around mask-wearing. Tunisia’s robot police were deployed to deal with those transgressing lockdown laws, while Ghana used theirs in the transportation of healthcare supplies to far-flung rural communities.

Africa’s small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) – which are the greatest enablers of economic progress – offered pragmatic and customised solutions to communities in despair, demonstrating agility and entrepreneurial vigour. They commanded areas such as blockchain and mobile money markets, unlocking avid interest from citizens and driving governments into more decisive policy-making processes.

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