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Unlocking the Potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa

All African countries will need more and better employment for their expanding populations. Businesses and households must employ productivity-boosting digital technologies to create jobs, even for low-skilled workers. Additionally, wider use of digital technologies can support Africa’s vision of inclusive economic transformation and growth.

 

However, these outcomes are not predetermined unless preconditions for a digital ecosystem are not met. To guide Africa’s efforts in a digitally-led inclusive economic transformation, the African Development Bank (AfDB) hired a consortium of highly skilled experts from Tambourine Innovation Ventures, Technopolis Group, and Research ICT Africa to conduct an exhaustive multi-year study to bring the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) to Africa. Using a multi-pronged approach, the team conducted new empirical investigations that support the rising evidence that digital technologies boost enterprise productivity, job creation, and poverty reduction in Africa.

The study's primary objective aims to bring awareness of the potential of Africa considering emerging technologies underpinning the 4IR (Internet of Things, blockchain, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, big data and machine learning, AR and VR, 3D printing, bioprinting, and custom manufacturing). By demonstrating case studies of 4IR technologies where Africa is poised for rapid growth and cultivating the resources, capital, and infrastructure where the continent is lagging, the team of experts could determine to social and economic implications of large-scale adoption of emerging technologies.

 

During this multi-year study, TIV experts conducted numerous surveys, missions, stakeholder consultations, and mappings to inform their analyses and recommendations. Additionally, interviews were conducted with AfDB experts from multiple Vice-Presidencies, accelerators, Venture Capital groups, entrepreneurs, and policymakers, whose insights informed various documents covering various topics. The information collected fed into the study, and elucidated how AfDB could use digitalization for its own operations to become a "Smart" Bank, how AfDB could create new loan and technical assistance products for innovation, entrepreneurship, digitalization, and the 4IR, and country-specific case studies that included regulatory environment assessments and measures to strengthen the digital innovation ecosystem.

 

A comprehensive technology road mapping and readiness assessment (regarding regulations, skills, and innovation ecosystem) was performed for the continent, and deep dives were conducted for select countries. Particular sectors with particular economic significance for Africa were covered in greater depth. The team evaluated the preconditions for 4IR (data privacy laws, open data policies, regulatory regime) in several countries, with India and South Korea as benchmarks. In addition, while identifying prospective areas for potential leapfrogging, the team tempered expectations and hype surrounding numerous novel technologies and the likelihood of their medium-term mainstreaming on the continent. The report was launched in Abidjan in 2020 through numerous workshops hosted by TIV’s experts targeting ministries in charge of the digital economy, industry, and investments, the private sector, civil society organizations, and relevant development partners.

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