WEF and Africa’s quest for industrial revolution

MACROBUTTON HTMLDirect Head of the Centre for Regional Strategies and Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum, Philipp Rösler (left); President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame; Global Managing Director, McKinsey and Company, USA, Dominic Barton; Founder, Graça Machel Trust, South Africa, Graca Machel; President, African Development Bank, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda. PHOTO: WEF/Benedikt von Loebell

MACROBUTTON HTMLDirect Head of the Centre for Regional Strategies and Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum, Philipp Rösler (left); President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame; Global Managing Director, McKinsey and Company, USA, Dominic Barton; Founder, Graça Machel Trust, South Africa, Graca Machel; President, African Development Bank, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda. PHOTO: WEF/Benedikt von Loebell

The World Economic Forum on Africa 2016, held from May 11 to 13 in Kigali, Rwanda, with the theme “Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation, attracted over 1,200 participants from 70 countries and about 600 organisations, 600 business leaders (more than half of whom were from Africa-based companies).

The forum also had in attendance nine African heads of state and more than 90 government leaders, heads of international and regional organisations; over 290 women leaders, 50 media leaders, over 50 academic leaders, over 20 social entrepreneurs, over 70 Young Global Leaders from 21 countries and 50 Global Shapers from 25 countries and a plethora of global public figures for the three-day event.

The World Economic Forum on Africa 2016 had several sessions and press meetings, like The Village of the Future; New Solutions: Modernisation Versus Preservation; Infrastructure Investment; SDGs: From Promise to Prosperity: Virtual Reality Experience; Rethinking Agriculture; New Solutions: Transformation of Financial Services; What If: All Education Were Digital?; Towards An Integrated Africa; Tackling Climate Change; Realising Africa As One Market; Rebuilding Trust and Integrity in Business; New Solutions: Digital Entrepreneurship; Towards a New Energy Future; Managing Migration; What Does the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean to Africa?; Africa’s Pathway to Transformation and Meet Africa’s Top Women Innovators.

But one session that encapsulates the World Economic Forum on Africa 2016, in Kigali was the opening plenary session with the sub-theme “Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution: How can Africa use the Fourth Industrial Revolution to Deliver Economic Growth and Social Prosperity.” The session was Chaired by the Head of the Centre for Regional Strategies and member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum, Philip Rosler, the panelists included the President, African Development Bank (AfDB) and co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina; Global Managing Director, McKinsey and Company, USA and co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, Meta-Council on the Circular Economy, Dominic Barton; President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; and Founder of Graca Machel Trust, South Africa, and co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa, Graca Machel.

The opening remarks were made by Elsie S. Kanza (Head of Africa; Member of the executive committee; World Economic Forum, Young Global Leader). Elsie S. Kanza stated that “from the Private sector’s point of view and with the 4th Industrial Revolution, Africa can create tomorrow’s industries today.”

The panellists made compelling comments throughout the session, which had a packed auditorium. President Paul Kagame stated that information and Communication Technology is not a magic bullet. And that people technology development is more than money but about real people.

He went further to posit that “Africa can only earn her place by earning it…leapfrogging has its limits.” One comment which Rwanda’s President made should resound into the recollective skulls of all and sundry in Africa goes thus “Africa should not play catch-up when the fifth Industrial Revolution comes. Africa cannot keep on playing catch up with what is happening in the world.”

Dominic Barton (Global Managing Director, McKinsey and Company, USA); remarked that “there are two huge benefits investing in the ICT sector in Africa. Infrastructure (power is needed to make the fourth Industrial Revolution come to fruition and link up the millions not yet connected). What we need to implement are bankable ideas. But there are a lot of ideas but are they bankable?”

He went further to state that “accessing private capital to invest in infrastructure because it is a profitable thing to do. In almost every single sector, you look into in Africa including agriculture (it has become an ICT business). We can apply that and improve what we do. Information Communications Technology (ICT) would revolutionise ICT itself, healthcare, agriculture and other sectors too.

He went further to opine that “in education; we need to revolutionise education because the 4th Industrial Revolution does that. We have to move away from 4 year qualification programmes. We can train people with high school education (not the high performing people in high school) in 4-6 weeks to be job ready by using technology and linking education with the employers. Education has to be revolutionised everywhere.”

During the session which was chaired by Philip Rosler, head of the Centre for Regional Strategies. Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum; he mentioned that 75 million people are to be brought online in three years.

Graca Machel-Founder of Graca Machel Trust; was outspoken about women empowerment and financial inclusion. She commenced by stating that “the three previous Industrial Revolutions, left out 50% of African women behind. If we’ve to look into the future, what does it mean to develop power for women? Whatever plans we make, it must involve women (and it is not about favour). When we discuss agriculture, women produce more of our foodstuffs but the technology used is of 18th Century. We are discussing infrastructure, where are the women? ”

She further stated that “in terms of common sense, no leader would develop the nation if he does not bring in the face, needs and participation of women to the centre. It would be half of it. He would not succeed. It makes commonsense as leadership to bring this energy, knowledge, expertise, creativity and leadership skills, which women bring to the table. We can not continue to leave women behind.”
Comment after comment from Graca Machel resounded with the participants as I could see delegates nodding their heads in agreement.

On education, she made poignant statements. She said that “we (Africans) need to change our education systems. Children are taught with the same methods which I was taught when I was a child- seven decades ago. How do you think of a future and transformation of our societies when you’re not investing from the early age in such a way that education has to be far ahead of what we have today?” This statement made a lot of participants concur and briefly discuss amongst one another.

She was not done yet, as she posited that “we can talk of the fourth Industrial Revolution but we must remember that this Continent has 60 million kids who are simply out of school (they are not in school). So, we need to think ahead but leaving no one behind. That includes children, women and young unemployed people.”

Nigeria’s Dr Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina; President of African Development Bank (AfDB) was of the opinion that “you can talk of the first to the tenth Industrial Revolution; it really does not matter. There are certain fundamentals you must get right in any revolution. First is, Africa does not have electricity. Digital literacy, computing ICT; evolves around having access to electricity.

“A Continent with 648 million without access to electricity, but we are sitting on a lot of electricity. African leaders have decided that Africa is tired of been in the dark. We need to accelerate universal access to electricity within ten years. China is adding 4000 megawatts of electricity every month. And a whole Continent of Africa just has the same amount of capacity to produce electricity like Belgium. We can not be competitive and industrialise unless the problem of electricity is tackled.”

The AfDB President further posited that “if you’re talking about the fourth Industrial Revolution, you must have cost competitive broadband, to be able to compete. Because you’re talking about cloud-based technology, where you need access and speed. Presently, Africa has less than twenty percent in terms of broadband access. Internet access is even very low. You cannot be talking about digital computing if you don’t have access to that. ”

The bow-tied President of AfDB went further to state that “in Research and Development, Africa spends less than 0.1 of her total Gross Domestic Product on Research and Development. Countries that have been through the first to the fourth Industrial Revolution are spending 4-5 percent on their Research and Development. In terms of scientists, we don’t have enough scientists. What Africa needs is projectile.

“We have to project things and we have to do it fast. 276, 000 patents get registered in the USA, Africa accounts for only 300. We have got to be really creative. We have got to invest heavily in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and it is fundamental we need to have high ambition for Africa. We can not have low ambitions. We need to make sure Africa is ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution and this can be done through skills. We cannot be competitive or computerised if we don’t solve electricity. ”

He posited that the he does not believe in leapfrogging because, according to him “a frog does not leap that far.”

Adesina revealed that “we (AfDB) have a programme, which would be supporting countries implement. It is called Coding For Employment. As industrial clusters. Change in the world, people would be looking at what part of the world has the readiness index. And we want to make sure Africa is ready in terms of skills, infrastructure and capacity to engage in the fourth Industrial Revolution.”

At the end of the plenary session, Philipp Rosler asked each panellist what Africa would look like in 2020. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame opined, referencing Graca Machel that “Africa’s problem is much bigger than leaving women behind. We have women left behind, not involved as they should, not having their rights as they should.

But we have men of Africa, just ahead of women but behind everyone else in the world.

“We need to move together. Women must be on the same level as men in Africa; only differentiated by talents and capacities. Africa cannot afford and should nt tolerate playing catch up all the time on everything, given what is happening in other parts of the world. We just need to focus, prioritise and organise ourselves because nobody would do it for us.”
• Aina is a writer and media strategist, based in Lagos.

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