Africa and the fourth industrial revolution
Sir: Africa is in a pickle at the moment. What on earth is to be done in order to turn a burgeoning population bulge into a productive trajectory? The continent was clearly cut off the huff not just by the suddenness but by the intensity of the emergence of the new economy. Years of wars, massive corruption, and misalignment of resources have come home to roost.
Africa has to reboot (the pun is intended). This requires the sort of intensity of political will which sustained the struggles for independence. In actual fact, this is the second fight for independence. It will certainly not be a tea party and will be harder than the first independence struggle. The consensus and national agreements of past have gone, in words of the great Jazz legend B.B. king “The thrill is gone.”
Ruthless in opposition to a modernising thrust includes a stultifying bureaucracy more difficult to dislodge than a tactically retreating colonial power. Technically inept, recruiting done on the basis of cronyism, drenched in corruption and working hand-in-glove with a morally deficient political establishment, it’s going to be a long hard run to dislodge their vice grip on the countries on the continent. Has to be dismantled though, there is not a ghost of a chance of Africa successfully playing catch up without wholesale reform of the bureaucracy. Welcome to the second anti-colonial war.
Other areas to be tackled include a structurally deficient education sector with ill-motivated, awfully remunerated members of staff in dire need of retraining and suffering from years of grotesque under-investment. State capitalism is entrenched and has to be taking on in order to build a vibrant, competitive economy. The continent has to accept a competitive framework, instituting pro-competition laws as well as the requisite enforcement agencies. The opposition from the entrenched beneficiaries of the status quo will be unrelenting. It must, however, be taking on.
There is a myriad of powerful forces of the new colonialists to be taking on and dislodged. It will require heavy political lifting, putting together a consensus and forging a national democratic agreement. Painstakingly it has to be done, with the continent sitting on a demographic time bomb, there is really no alternative.
Education remains the key to getting Africa out of poverty and plugging into the reality of the new world order of a knowledge-driven economy. When the late Fidel Castro came to power, he ensured that there was a massive investment in education and made it free at all levels. Today, the tiny country that gave the United States a hell of trouble especially during the Presidency of the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy massively exports doctors to about 77 countries of the world and earns about $8 billion annually.
It has dwarfed what she makes from her hitherto mono-economy of sugarcane exportation. The government of India in the early 1980s made great investments in information technology training. By the early 1990s companies from the west outsourced some of their services to the world’s second-most populous nation. They also took advantage of the fact that English is one of her official languages to attract these investments as the language is the lingua franca of the world. Most operations in many call centres in the United States are handled in the world’s largest democracy which has translated into billions of dollars for the erstwhile British colony.
Wealth has long shifted from natural resources to human capital development and Africa should move with the current trends so as not to be left in the lurch.
Tony Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos.