September 21, 2021

Africa cannot industrialise; it cannot be competitive unless we solve the energy problem

3 min read

The debate on industrialisation and how Africa can lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution was the climax of the second day of the World Economic Forum on Africa, taking place in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.


Addressing the opening plenary on Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, President Akinwumi Adesina of the African Development Bank (AfDB) reiterated the importance of energy. “Africa cannot industrialise; it cannot be competitive unless we solve the energy problem, he noted, adding that “Today, 645 million people have no access to electricity in Africa.”

Lack of affordable and reliable access to lighting and power inhibits businesses from growing, new jobs from being created or provision of critical services.

Adesina said the Bank would invest $12.5 billion in five years to boost the continent’s energy capacity. In addition to energy, the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires internet access. However internet penetration on the continent is still low.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, which has been cited as one of the countries with the highest internet penetration rate in Africa outlined the nation’s efforts to embrace ICT for growth.  “We have 4,500km of fibre optic cable running across the country, and wide 3G mobile coverage. We want to avail internet for all,” he said. “We have also invested in institutions that will empower people to use the internet.

But ICT alone, Kagame said, cannot transform the continent. It has to be backed by financial technology which guarantees deep efficient capital markets that will invest in infrastructure to achieve the much needed development.

He underlined the importance of development that is centred on people, which he described as ‘people technology’. “Development is more than money and policies. It is about people, cultivating good politics that demand accountability and results from leaders, and protects stability and security,” Kagame stressed.

The gender equality question in industrial revolution came into sharp focus. Graça Machel, Founder of the Foundation for Community Development regretted that the past three revolutions had left women, who are the majority population, behind.  “No meaningful development, whether political, economic, business, can occur in Africa when you cut out more than half its population,” she said. In addition, she highlighted the urgent need for women friendly infrastructure and technology, as well as revolutionising the educational system, if the continent is to take a lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Similarly, Dominic Barton, the Global Managing Director for McKinsey & Company pointed out the need for an education system that prepares the young generation with the relevant skills necessary for industry now and into the future. “We need to move away from the four-year qualification program. We can train people with high school education for four to six week programs in technology to be ready for the market, and link them to employers. Let us do it here and get the millions of youth out of joblessness,” said Barton.

To address youth unemployment, the AfDB has designed a Jobs for Youth in Africa (JfYA) strategy, aimed at increasing direct and indirect employment. This is expected to reduce poverty, inequality, as well as economic and conflict driven migration, increasing social cohesion and political stability. “The future of our young people does not belong at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. It lies in us tapping their talents and putting our resources to support them,” emphasised Adesina.

The JfYA will see the Bank invest $5 billion over the next ten years and create 25 million new jobs. These investments are expected to create opportunities for 50 million young people through skills development, and job creation in Agriculture, Industry and ICT. The approach is expected to generate over $30 billion in income gains for Africa in the next ten years.

Courtesy Afdb

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