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Rebatho Madiba | The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) remains a priority for Africa

Rebatho Madiba | The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) remains a priority for Africa
07-07-23 / Rebatho Madiba

Rebatho Madiba | The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) remains a priority for Africa

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) remains a priority for Africa. The continent may not yet have the infrastructure, connectivity and technology that defines 4IR innovation and growth in other countries around the globe, but there is significant investment into Africa and its potential. From financial institutions to organisations to the public sector, 4IR remains a priority for those that have the foresight to see how a commitment to Africa will pay dividends in the future. 

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa was developed for the sole purpose of driving 4IR within the country, and to allow for the growth and development of technologies and digital innovations that will empower organisations. The goal of the CSIR is to enhance the foundations of technology so that 4IR can evolve smoothly and sustainably. The CSIR also has a presence in Kenya and Ghana with similar objectives in mind - bolster each country’s confidence around 4IR and continue to build the connective tissue required to maintain momentum. 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) underscores the importance of such organisations and the need for collective action in institutionalising 4IR technologies’ at a time when technology needs to follow the pathway of social good, not just innovation. It is a sentiment echoed in a recent discussion around the start of human clinical trials for artificial intelligence (AI) brain implants - the Neuralink chip is set to enter the human brain and the most significant question raised is how this needs to be balanced with societal impact and technology for good. This is the stance that dominates how the WEF believes 4IR should be managed across Africa as it will allow for richer collaboration and socioeconomic growth.  

However, the WEF emphasises the need for improved governance and regulation by the government to ensure that the risks that come with 4IR - security, and inequality - are managed effectively. A sentiment shared by PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC) who believe that while there is potential within 4IR there is an equal need for concern. Technologies have to be harnessed and focused in the right ways to ensure that they do what they promise - revolutionise the world and transform lives - not eat into resources and create greater divides between the haves and the have-nots.  

The research firm is also paying attention to how 4IR can drive the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In collaboration with the WEF, PWC believes that 4IR can be steered in the right direction to help overcome systemic challenges across Africa and resolve many of the complexities that inhibit development and growth. This, says the firm, needs connectivity. It is connectivity that forms the backbone of 4IR, citizen service delivery, and the development of richer services and capabilities across agriculture, medicine, and education. As the report emphasises - more than 80% of technology applications recognised as key to achieving the SDGs require internet access.  

Which is precisely what the UNDP believes to be key in driving the 4IR bus across the long stretches of Africa. In its recent playbook, the organisation emphasises the need for inclusive transformation, and the use of technology to remove the stain of the growing digital divide. The playbook is designed to provide companies and governments with insights that allow for them to build a 4IR strategy that’s reliant on relevant technology and resilient to change and disruption.  

What all this means for the organisations that are growing their digital foundations in the region is that there is a cohesive drive towards the development of 4IR in Africa. A drive that’s paying attention to more than just ROI and the bottom line. Rather, it is a shared vision across organisations and institutions to fully realise the potential of 4IR on a continent that could shine on the global stage with the right investment and support. To ensure this becomes a reality, companies need to collaborate and invest in technologies that will empower their evolution into 4IR.  

*Written by Rebatho Madiba, Business Development Digital Platform Solutions at BCX.

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