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Highly Recommended 108 PDF Report: Adapting to the 4IR: Africa’s development in the age of automation
Download the full 108 PDF Report here:


The rate of technological change is the defining characteristic of
our generation. Its impact on work, labour, how people live, our
social and political interactions, have all been and are being
transformed by the digital revolution.

This change is likely to be a net good for the world. But progress
is not always smooth.
In the developed world this tension is playing out in the debate on
automation. New technologies have provided a wider array of
goods, at a lower cost.

They have also helped spur new industries,
creating new jobs and opportunities.
But there have also been downsides. Employment in some
industries has been eroded, often to the detriment of whole

From the American rust-belt to British ports and
industrial-towns, automation has transformed the manufacturing
process, making it far more advanced and technologically driven and far less labour intensive.

The cost has been the livelihoods of
many people, which has often been underappreciated when looking
at progress as a whole.
The impact of this revolution on Africa and other developing
countries is likely to be even more seismic.

Rapidly evolving
technologies and the astronomical proliferation of smartphones
across Africa have already changed lives on the continent and
increased aspirations, but they are also altering the development
pathways available to these countries.
Historically, manufacturing has been the development escalator
for poor countries.

Now, the labour-substitution effect of
automation threatens African economies’ ability to leverage
manufacturing for job creation, as the emerging Asian economies
did in the second half of the twentieth century.
This will drastically change the process of development, although
how is anyone’s guess.

Only one thing is for certain: success will be
premised on how African governments and their economies adapt
to technological change.
This new policy framework published by my Institute helps
African governments navigate this.

It sets out the wide plethora of
policy choices available to governments to leapfrog into the digital
era: from investments in AI-powered personalised education
platforms to address the severe gap in learning outcomes, to the
application of advanced technology to transform the continent’s
agricultural productivity.

It also offers a means by which to navigate the opportunities and
political considerations inherent in making such hard and
contentious policy decisions. Faced with multiple priorities, the
tendency of governments is to try and do too much, often to the
detriment of the truly urgent issues.

But no government can implement everything; hard policy
choices and trade-offs have to be made. And if understanding this is
essential, so too is the need to be adaptive. Expectations are often
stratospheric for leaders first coming in to office. Yet these often
come into conflict with a government’s capacity to deliver

This was true for me coming into office, and it is perhaps even
more so for the leaders we work with today. The challenges they
face are far more complex, and nowhere is this more acute than in

Not only is government delivery hard in a low-capacity
environment, but the policy choices to be made are no longer clear.
The ‘rule-book’ for manufacturing-led development is becoming
Being adaptive doesn’t mean leaving development pathways to
chance; governments must create the policy space to allow
innovation to flourish.

They must be clear on their goals for
inclusive growth, and then step back to allow actors across the
economy to innovate, creating a learning ecosystem through which
they can identify successes and be prepared to shore up investment
to back emergent ‘winners’ across the economy.

A digital framework to identify and open up these opportunities
will be an essential first step.
Furthermore, African economies on their own are by and large
not big enough to attract significant investment, as compared to
the markets of China, India or the US.

As such, African countries
should unite to create a digital single market in which to generate
the opportunities entrepreneurs and investors need to stimulate

Such a big hurdle, however, cannot be grappled by Africa alone.
All the opportunities that the digital revolution represents are
premised on super-fast, reliable and affordable connectivity.

economies cannot shoulder this investment by themselves. It
requires the financial heft of the multilateral investment community
in collaboration with the leading global tech innovators to find
viable solutions to connect the bottom three billion, many of whom
are in Africa, by 2025.

This does not necessarily mean laying fibre optics everywhere to
the last mile. To start, we need dialogue between multilateral
investors and Big Tech to work out how those still unconnected can
be best served, drawing on frontier models of financing with the
most innovative forms of connectivity

Kenya’s Minister of Information, Communications and
Technology, Joe Mucheru, sets out some of the challenges and
questions that many African governments are asking today around
this question in his foreword to this report.

As he writes, a growing
youth population has different aspirations today – and as Africa’s
population is likely to double by 2050, dwarfing Europe 3.5 times
over, these desires are almost certain to increase with it.

His government and many others we work with, including those
of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana and Togo, are pressing on with reforms
to make their countries prosper in the digital era. Yet it is for all of
us – African governments, multilateral investment actors and the
international tech community – to ensure that the fruits of this are

My Institute’s recommendations are the first steps towards
that goal.


Africa is characterized by a fast-growing, youthful, rapidly
urbanizing and extremely well-connected population whose
aspirations and expectations have been set by their wide exposure
to global media.
Our people expect technology to improve the quality of their
lives and their economic participation, and it already is.

money transfers have revolutionized the banking sector; farmers
can now get more and better produce because of farming and
weather apps while children are having their curriculum delivered
through digital devices.

However, every indication and fear has been that as technology
moves into the job space and automation of blue-collar work
becomes mainstreamed, that low-skill repetitive jobs will become
extinct and the very nature of work will be transformed.

What are the changes to expect? Are these expectations wellfounded? What are their scope and scale? How do we prepare our
countries for this emerging revolution? What does it mean for
developing economy countries and how can we change our lot? Is
winter coming?

Crystal gazing is a notoriously parlous, uncertain and error-prone
profession. In this insightful monograph, Kartik and Georgina give a
reasoned prognostication of the future and the options to shape it.
They anticipate how some of the changes may play out and what it
means for Africa.

The changes that are anticipated require a whole-of-society
response - the government can set policy direction and control, to
some extent, the incentives that drive the private sector, but each
player in the national ecosystem needs to understand the

The traditional economic factors - money, machines,
manpower, materials, and markets all need to adapt to the new
The fact that change is coming, cannot be gainsaid - it always has
and always will - how we react to change determines the fate of our
peoples and nations.

If Africa is to participate meaningfully in the
global economy of the future, outside of its traditional role as a
resource extraction continent and market, then governments and
corporations need to re-assess the priority of their investments.

This analysis of the factors, nature, and levers in the hands of
governments and corporations is worth a close and thoughtful look.
The confluence of climate change and the fourth industrial
revolution mean that the geographic, economic, technical and
social environments are transforming simultaneously. This is either a
boon or a bane for developing countries.

The rapid transformation of so much, all at once, can lead to
analysis paralysis. It is necessary to skillfully, knowledgeably and
carefully navigate this new emergent terrain.
The seismic changes that portend on the horizon due to the rapid
evolution of the technical environment cause forward-thinking
policymakers concern.

The advance of artificial intelligence and
machine learning, the adoption of blockchain, and the manifest
automation of jobs, the advent of 3D printing and additive
manufacturing, nanotechnology, and the logistical impact of selfdriving cars mean that the very structure of society will change.
This paper provides a preliminary framework for thinking through
these challenges.

Hon. Joe Mucheru,
Cabinet Secretary
Ministry of Information,
Communications and Technology



The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upending the nature of
work as we know it. Policymakers are struggling to grapple with this
future in the West, but for African countries—and developing
countries generally—the outlook appears even more bleak.
Advancing technology will narrow the traditional route to
economic transformation through manufacturing.

This is a matter
of when, not if—many of these jobs as we know them will be
Yet tech will transform Africa too, offering new avenues to
leapfrog the old systems of the West.

To achieve this, African
governments, the international community and the tech community
must come together to harness the power of the 4IR. If this does
not happen now, a new tech inequality will further entrench the gap
between the developed and developing world.


• Automation in manufacturing presents a threat to labour. The
nature of manufacturing is changing in ways that may diminish
opportunities to move low-capacity, low-productivity labour into
more productive sectors and activities at scale. Automation is
not only reshaping the structure of Western economies, but is
also threatening Africa’s ability to emulate the development
pathway of earlier industrialisers.

• Automation’s impact on Africa poses a challenge to the West.
Africa’s development and population trajectory could blow
Europe’s current migration crisis out of the water. If migration
continues to be thwarted without many productive jobs
emerging in Africa, increased insecurity and instability are likely
to prevail across the region.

The threats that automation poses
to inclusive growth in Africa must be understood in this context,
to see why the West has as much of a stake in promoting
economic prosperity in Africa as Africans themselves.

• Automation will offer opportunities for development, too.
Despite the impact of automation on manufacturing, 4IR
technologies will offer diverse ways to overcome social


challenges and fuel economic growth. The use of sensors, big
data and machine learning could transform Africa’s agricultural
productivity, releasing labour for more productive use. Artificial
intelligence applied to personalised learning platforms could
transform literacy and numeracy outcomes, which have been
plagued by poor learning outcomes despite increases in


Embracing vs Managing Automation
African governments face two sets of policy choices:

• Governments can embrace automation and the opportunities of
4IR technologies. If they do, a plethora of policy opportunities
are available, from health and education to more decentralised
models of advanced manufacturing and technologically
enhanced service-sector development.

Governments can also
make complementary investments to prepare for the future
economy, such as reorienting education around high-end
cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

• Alternatively, governments can manage the impact of
automation by focusing on traditional pathways for
development, specifically manufacturing. For countries with the
right endowments—such as abundant cheap labour and low-cost
inputs that can rival Asian markets—this policy choice may be
the optimum one for the near future.

However, countries on this
industrialisation path should not ignore the opportunities that
the future economy will offer, and should simultaneously invest
in alternative pathways for growth and development.
These policy choices are not mutually exclusive.

Each country
must make its own choices based on its unique economic,
demographic and political conditions and development plans.
An Adaptive Policy Environment
As the pathways to economic transformation are currently
unknown, experimentation will be key.

This will require a shift in
government: adaptability will be king, and governments must
become directors of improvisation and innovation. To do this,
African governments should:

• Set a clear overarching policy goal. Based on a shared vision of
inclusive growth which all actors—firms, entrepreneurs, local
government, bureaucrats and civil society—can support.

• Encourage variation and not be constrained by planning. All
actors in the system must understand the parameters of reform
and be encouraged to experiment in pursuit of the overarching
policy goal.

Where policies are reversible (and most are),
governments should be biased towards action, making a range of
policy decisions so that successes can balance failures, and
provide political cover for them.

• Establish a learning ecosystem. As innovation occurs,
governments must be able to identify successes in response to
policy goals. Current investments in detailed policy design and
planning should be redirected into a learning ecosystem that
fosters experimentation and empowers actors to solve problems
from the bottom up.

A Call to Arms: Investment in the Foundations for Technological
All opportunities to embrace automation require super-fast,
reliable and affordable connectivity, available to the bottom three
billion, many of whom reside in Africa. African governments – and
governments of other low income countries – cannot shoulder this
investment alone.

The urgency of this investment cannot be
stressed enough if Africa is not to be left behind. The international
community must stand and invest together—traditional donors and
global tech giants alike. To do so, they should jointly:
• Explore innovative financing arrangements, and experiment
with emergent technology.

This could take the form of a global
commitment to ensure the bottom three billion have reliable
and fast access to the internet by 2025, overcoming Africa’s
fundamental barrier to future prosperity.
The 4IR era will require African governments to apply a digital
lens to their socio-economic development strategies.

Without this,
low-income countries may find themselves unprepared for the
challenges that 4IR poses to traditional structural transformation
strategies and miss the key opportunities it offers. African
governments should:

• Develop their own digital framework to support development
plans. This framework should ensure that digitally enabled
opportunities are not just accounted for, but underpin all
economic development strategies.
African markets on their own are not big enough to attract
significant investment away from larger markets such as India, the
US or China. Consequently, African governments should:

• Unite to create a digital single market. Whether championed by
one government or tabled at the African Union, a digital single
market will offer more attractive opportunities for domestic and
international entrepreneurs and investors than individual
countries alone.

Appropriate External Support
Adaptive policymaking requires a new type of external support.
External actors must understand where they can be most impactful
and avoid areas where they are not.
Tech firms, entrepreneurial corporates and impact funds should:

• Engage in policies that require experimentation. Organisations
with ‘fail-fast’ mindsets and innovation in their DNA are best
placed to tackle challenges with no proven solutions, especially
where technology is part of the proposed solution.
Traditional donors should:

• Engage in policies requiring systemic change if they can
commit for long periods of time. This includes policies that
require change across an entire system involving many actors,
such as teachers across a school network.

Traditional donors
with experience of engaging with developing country
governments, and with reporting cycles that allow long-term
engagement, should focus their efforts here.

• Be astute and cautious when engaging in politically complex
policy areas. External engagement in policies that are politically
contentious should be avoided until an opening for change
emerges domestically.

This applies to all external actors, but
traditional donors, with strong links to local actors on the
ground, may be best placed to advise when this is the case.

anything, traditional donors can offer political cover for
domestic reformers in these policy areas.
The 4IR does not mean the end of development. It means a more
innovative and experimental journey for policymakers and
governments, who will have to let go of detailed planning and be
prepared to try things, learn and adapt.

The path to the future
economy is there, but governments will have to take that first step....

Download the full 108 PDF Report here:
    • 1
    Francisco Gimeno - BC Analyst The African continent is ripe for the 4th IR arrival. The disruption and transformation brought by it in Africa will be of epic proportions. However, "Africa is not a country". The continent has to prepare for what is already coming, beyond individual countries, strengthening continental unity and social/economic reforms in order to be really successful. This pdf is a must for African leaders, influencers and anyone who is working for a new Africa.