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What does 4IR actually mean for Africa?

By , Portals editor
Africa , 15 Oct 2018

What does 4IR actually mean for Africa?

Whether or not Africa can leverage the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and address many of its challenges will depend on the buy-in and participation of its youth.

This is according to futurist and company strategist Craig Wing from FutureWorld who spoke at the NEC XON annual Summit hosted recently at Sun City in South Africa's North West Province.

Wing said 60% of the population is under the age of 25. "Can 4IR be Africa's hero? Well the truth of the matter is that in Africa, we have the youngest continent run by the oldest leaders. How do we bring more young people into this conversation to ensure that 4IR becomes part of the mix as we go forward in time?"

"The world is changing so much quicker and it belongs to the young people who understand the impacts of technology and how to change things."

The role of Africa's youth is one factor, another is how effective those business strategies implemented will be in being able to leverage the real opportunities linked to 4IR.

Based on his experience in travelling across the continent, Wing believes much of Africa is still caught in the agrarian age. "We're not even at the first industrial age – where the steam engine automated farming – in Africa we're still farming, and in many places we're not even farming, we're fighting over land. Can 4IR be Africa's hero? It may be, in the cities, in urban areas and the mega-cities, but in agricultural rural Africa, this depends... it depends on the decisions we make."

And mobile has to be included in this decision making, according to Wing, along with continued attention to last mile connectivity and the entrenchment of digitisation that will change the lives of rural farmers, for example.

To illustrate, he referred to 'singles day' marked in China on 11 November and based on an initiative spearheaded by Jack Ma and Alibaba.

The day is meant for single people and is based on the same gift-exchange notion of Valentine's Day, but rather singles are encouraged to buy something for themselves.

Wing explained, "They said 'wait till the eleventh of November and don't worry about the fourteenth of February because you are single, no one is going to buy you anything....but on the eleventh of November, buy something for yourself'. So the Chinese did. And they bought US$23.5 billion worth of stuff in one day, 1.5 billion transactions. The first US$5 billion was spent within fifteen minutes, 325 000 orders a second, 250 000 payments every second, 1 billion packages from 140 000 brands and merchants, and one day in China is now bigger than a year's online sales in Brazil."

"So, suddenly when you take 4IR and you lump it with something traditional like brick and mortar, these are the kinds of numbers and scale you can get," he continued.

He said in 2015 Alibaba made US$14.3 billion, which represents 8% of South Africa's GDP within 24 hours and 90% of sales came from mobile.

"What is your mobile strategy? What is your mobile first strategy to catch on to this?" Wing asked.

According to the futurist, businesses that are thriving today are those that are creating communities and ecosystems that are empowering customers with options to network.

"Digital IQ will be important in the future and once we have the connectivity, perhaps then data will be the most important resource over oil. Once we have the data we can start solving some of Africa's problems, like the land issue. We can start using 4IR to unleash the potential of Africa, if we do it correctly," said Wing.

Eugene le Roux, CEO of NEC XON Africa, added, "The burning question 'can Africa compete?'... it depends. Africa has nothing to lose, we have nothing to protect, there are no big businesses here that is protecting technology that is stifling the way forward, and this is where our advantage could be in the future. We as Africa need to keep investing in the digital economy, we've already seen what impact that has on African economies. Today, the mobile industry in Africa contributes about seven percent of GDP, that's massive."

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