by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
JOHANNESBURG – AFRICAN countries have the right to choose countries and companies to collaborate with in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
This is according to industry experts amid the trade war between China and the United States (US), with especially the latter seeking to influence the tech choices of its trading partners.
Speaking at the “Gearing Africa for the 4IR: Patterns, Prospects and Lessons webinar” hosted by the University of Johannesburg, panelists urged the continent to identify partnerships that were best suited to it.
This was the prevailing sentiment among stakeholders from business, academia, civil society and the media that shared insights on the continent’s future, and the role of technology in achieving its developmental aims.
Dr David Monyae, Executive Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies, noted the current international system was fraught with disagreement on technologies, with countries such as the US wielding influence against more ambitious countries in the field of technology.
These countries include China. US was recently alleged to be behind the United Kingdom (UK) to bar China’s Huawei in its 5G rollout.
Monyae said Africa needed a global environment conducive to its development
“For Africa to develop, it must have sovereignty,” he said.
Monyae said however, there was no need to retreat from globalization, adding protectionism at global level would not succeed, and it would not be good for the continent.
“Africa need not be pro-Beijing or pro-Washington, but pro-development at all costs,” he emphasised.
Noting the advantages that the 4IR offers for Africa’s development – such as precision agriculture and bridging the digital divide – Monyae noted local infrastructure limited its ability to embrace 4IR.
“To surmount this dearth, the continent needs to learn from the lessons of more advanced countries, and identify partnerships that might be to its advantage,” Monyae said.
Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ (University of Johannesburg) Vice-Chancellor and deputy chairperson of South Africa’s Presidential Commission on the 4IR, noted the potential of technology to turbocharge development.
He listed some areas the commission was focused on, where 4IR could reduce inequality in South Africa, but he emphasised the urgency of taking action.
“COVID-19 has shown us how vital technology is for the future,” Marwala said.
He however noted gaps still existed in infrastructure, as they did during the first three industrial revolutions.
“The time to invest in technology is now, we cannot wait to adapt,” Marwala said.
Edward Zhou, Huawei’s Vice President of Global Public Affairs, noted that despite some progress, a significant digital divide remained, preventing Africa from seizing the advantages of the 4IR.
He said 28 million students in Sub-Saharan African were without internet connectivity. 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,” Zhou said.
Huawei has been present in Africa since 1997.
It has partnered with more than 400 universities across Africa in giving training to more than 15 000 students.
Thang Nguyen-Quoc, an economist at the Orgnisation for Economic Development (OECD) Development Centre, pointed out that resources available for development in Africa had not kept up with population growth.
Due to the COVID-19, eight African countries were already in debt
Nguyen-Quoc said foreign direct investment in Africa was set to fall by 25 to 40 percent due to the pandemic but digital investment offered more effective returns than other sectors.
“Digital transformation is critical,” he said.
Nguyen-Quoc said compared to energy, ICT was cheap, and its benefits real and immediate.
“It is critical that governments follow the right policies, ones that will attract more effective types of investments,” Nguyen-Quoc said.
– CAJ News