Although economic growth is slowing globally, technology innovation is unlocking unparalleled opportunities for countries across the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in Africa, where developing economies are in a prime position to harness the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and leapfrog other more advanced nations.
Thanks to the availability of sophisticated technology solutions at affordable rates, Africa can more effectively address some of the key challenges that have proved to be both its biggest bugbear and greatest opportunity.
Things such as infrastructure development, better education and improved healthcare are made possible thanks to enhanced bandwidth, the ubiquity of mobile devices, and the arrival of multinational data centres in South Africa that bring access to artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality.
According to the African Development Bank, the continent’s general economic performance continues to improve. Gross domestic product (GDP) reached about 3.5percent last year, up from 2.1 percent in 2016.
GDP growth is projected to accelerate to 4 percent this year and 4.1 percent next year.
Following the inaugural Africa Investment Forum last year, the bank launched a digital platform to connect investors with investment opportunities in Africa. This also provides a live database of private and public private partnership projects, as well as being a repository of information on investors and technical assistance providers on the continent. As of this month, it is hosting a community of more than 500 users, 110 companies, 30 percent of whom are outside Africa.
All this combines to give further impetus to how important mobile technology is to the success of all countries on the continent. South Africa led the mobile charge in the early 1990s and was quickly followed by others. Today, Africa is a mobile-first (and in some parts mobile-only) continent where innovations such as mobile money, e-learning, and telemedicine are becoming commonplace.
With Africa’s working-age population projected to increase from 705 million last year to almost 1 billion by 2030, more needs to be done to capitalise on the potential that exists. Mobile devices that are physically better suited to the harsh environmental conditions of the continent need to take priority.
The rugged handsets must be developed to provide all the functionality of sophisticated smartphones while providing protection against the elements (dust, heat, water).
Handsets are in many respects the enablers to harness 4IR, as they provide users with a gateway to access the internet, the cloud and mobile money. This has proved to be a boon for entrepreneurs who do not have access to laptops and desktop machines. Mobile empowers people from all walks of life and education levels to get information and equip themselves for a digitally-led future that’s coming faster than many anticipated.
And this is where the importance of foreign investment is. Service providers and manufacturers can tailor their offerings and help Africans embrace a 4IR environment to not only have the skills required for a connected world, but also engage and transact with people from across the world. As technology provides a platform for skills development, it also facilitates significant economic growth that will make the continent more attractive to outside investors.
Africa’s in a prime position to take charge in a 4IR environment, but needs to quickly capitalise on the technologies that enable it to do so.
Julien Fouriot is sales director for Africa at Crosscall.