Africa is not only ready for the fourth industrial revolution. It is set to outdo the achievements of the developed world. That was one of the messages that emerged at a seminar hosted by the African Development Bank (AfDB.org) at its headquarters in Abidjan.
The event attracted Ivorian and regional ministers as well as officials, senior Bank staff and private sector executives, including those of tech giants MTN and Orange.
“Any big city in Africa is pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of the world, with its mix of fiber, 3G, 4G and even 5G,” said Stefan Nalletamby, Acting Vice President for the Private Sector, Infrastructure and Industrialization Complex at the African Development Bank.
“Our goal is not to match our peers in the developed countries, but to surpass them…The African Development Bank is ready to walk the talk and lead the efforts for the digital transformation of the continent,” Nalletamby said in his keynote address.
The speech was followed by a presentation of a groundbreaking report titled “The potential of the fourth industrial revolution in Africa.” The report, funded by the African Development Bank and carried out by the Technopolis Group, was launched in November at the Africa Investment Forum.
The study shows an African tech sector taking flight.
In 2019, approximately 6,500 technology start-ups were identified on the continent, among which about 10% develop applications that characterize the fourth industrial revolution.
Any big city in Africa is pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of the world, with its mix of fiber, 3G, 4G and even 5G
The foundation has been laid for the fourth industrial revolution, said Francie Sadeski, partner and lead in emerging markets at Technopolis.
“The figures exceed forecasts and indicate that the basis for Africa’s growth into the fourth industrial revolution is already there,” she said during a presentation on the report.
The report notes that venture capital of more than $100 million was invested in African Internet of Things start-ups by 2019, making it by far the most attractive 4IR technology for investors on the continent. The market is projected to reach a value of $12.6 billion by 2021 in Africa and the Middle East.
“It is an opportunity for the continent to embrace change and capture new opportunities at the same time that the same revolution is happening everywhere else in the world,” said Abdu Mukhtar, Director of the Industrial and Trade Department at the African Development Bank.
About $47 million was invested in Additive Manufacturing in Africa by 2019, according to the report. The market is estimated to reach $1.3 billion by 2022. Other encouraging statistics include: artificial intelligence start-ups and blockchain start-ups attracting respectively $17.5 million by 2019 and $14.9 million in 2019.
The report further indicates that human capital is key to Africa realizing the offerings of the fourth industrial revolution, which urgently requires more graduates in science, technology, mathematics and engineering. The topic was carried through to a panel discussion on the readiness of African countries to produce the required skills.
Djibril Ouattara, CEO of MTN Côte d’Ivoire, said human capital was only part of the equation.
He said learning institutions must “instill entrepreneurship in youths and teach them how to create business plans…We need schools that give exposure to our youths…We need to build ecosystems around various schools. It’s one thing to build technology, but it’s another to have viable business models.”
Nicholas Williams, Division Manager of ICT Operations at the African Development Bank, said ecosystems need not be formal. He used the example of Nairobi, where start-ups had attracted investment without official intervention.
“The fourth industrial revolution is super exciting…I want to repeat…Africa’s in a good position,” Williams said. “Africa will compete…We’ve actually got a good ecosystem here…We’re going in the right direction.”