Geographies in Depth

Africa’s role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Muslim girls buy food from a street vendor at Okala, an area of Libreville February 14, 2012.

For Africa, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is full of challenges - but also promise. Image: REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Ali Bongo Ondimba
President of Gabon, Office of the President of Gabon
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Africa

As global leaders met at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting last week, the focus was on how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can deliver jobs and economic prosperity for all people across the world.

For the African continent, being part of this new economic revolution may seem full of challenges, yet it is also full of promise. After decades of overreliance on volatile commodities cycles, unprecedented efforts of structural transformation are currently being implemented across numerous African economies.

Over the past decade, African leaders have shown an indefatigable commitment to maintaining a stable macroeconomic framework and to setting up a business environment that is favourable to foreign investment and infrastructure upgrades. With all these changes, I am convinced that our continent will rise to the challenge of moving away from our resource-driven economies towards diversified and productivity-driven economies. In turn, the new phase of African economic development will itself influence a rise of a new generation of African entrepreneurs who are tech-savvy and able to influence global technological developments.

The debate in Davos focused on this “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, a challenge I define as creating a “bold revolution” - when some of our biggest challenges can become unique opportunities.

For our part, Africa will make a significant contribution to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Governments across the continent have laid down their vision in the report on “The Future We Want for Africa by 2063”, adopted by the African Union Heads of States and Government. This vision has already been translated into action.

In my country, Gabon, entry into the digital age, which is the future, can be seen in numerous sectors - from telecommunications to security, finance and hospitality. Recent developments include the launch of the e-visa, electronic tax filing and payment systems, mobile banking, and satellite-assisted environmental monitoring (SEAS Gabon) to track environmental threats. The contribution of these new activities to economic growth is already being seen.

Gabon’s GRAINE scheme, for example, is a pioneering plantation programme aimed at creating a balanced agriculture economy, which will allow farmers to produce for themselves without the need for infrastructure. Farmers will be able to use digital media to trade their products at the international level - making money in a way suitable with their environment and living conditions.

My government has taken significant measures to enable the rise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our country. To this end, we launched the National Agency for Digital Infrastructure and Frequencies (ANINF) in 2011. The agency aims to improve the nation’s information system strategy and enable the rise of a new class of entrepreneurs.

In 2015, Gabon was awarded the ICT in Sustainable Development Award for improved access to information and communication technology network and services, reducing cost, and for having expanded internet access to young people as well as the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Working together, we must do more. This is why I have travelled to Switzerland to drum up support for investment and jobs for Gabon. We are convinced that today’s technological revolution can help leverage existing global knowledge towards strengthening the continent’s own technology efforts, its know-how, and innovation capabilities. Put simply, this change will bring about the opportunity to make better, faster, and more cost-effective decisions for everyone in Africa, therefore increasing profitability and welfare.

Conversely, the size and increasing sophistication of our markets mean that Africa will be a place where businesses and technologies can prosper, and that the continent can power its way through this technological revolution.

Several key opportunities are within reach in a variety of sectors, including agriculture and food security, environment and natural resources security, and health. These opportunities will materialize as levels of domestic and foreign investment grow higher.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is set to help us achieve our goal: become an emerging country by 2025. Surely it is a challenge, but we can deliver together. This is neither a slogan nor a fad, but the route that leads away from weak and erratic economic growth to a more prosperous future for all of Africa.

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