We are firmly in 4th Industrial Revolution


Parliament must move with speed to pass the Data Protection Bill that has been in the House for some time now. FILE PHOTO | NMG

“We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.”- Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman, World Economic Forum

If events in the past week in Nairobi are anything to go by, then we are on to greater promise. I was fortunate to participate in five of the six conferences and workshops that focused on the emerging 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR).

While in the past such conferences have simply discussed 4IR as an emerging concept, this time round virtually all of the events focused on the application. Uber, in partnership with C4DLab and University of Nairobi’s Innovation and Incubation Lab, started the week with a one-day Urban Mobility Summit at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi. This was part of the Nairobi Innovation Week (NIW) side events that brought together mobility interest groups in the country.

At the summit, Uber re-launched a newly updated Uber Movement, a free tool that shares dynamic insights about traffic and mobility in cities.

This digital data-sharing website will be useful to urban planners, city leaders, third parties and the public to better understand the transportation needs of cities like Nairobi.

The tool includes Uber Movement Speeds, a free data set which the company said will allow cities to track vehicle speed and provide traffic speed data at the street segment and hourly level. Transportation planners will also have access to historical speed data so they can access the impact of the transportation infrastructure in the city and the functioning of the overall transportation network.

Movement Speeds also includes dataset, which allows users to filter data to view actual speed averages during specific time ranges, days of the week and time of the day. At the University of Nairobi’s main campus, one of the plenary sessions focused on how the country can leverage the 4IR to improve competitiveness of startups in Kenya. New startups exhibiting at the NIW have started to incorporate the technologies that will drive 4IR.

In one of the sessions, it emerged that although opportunities exist in Africa, governments stifle innovation through fiscal policies. Success therefore will depend on an enabling policy environment, free broadband availability, overhauling university curriculum to make coding and entrepreneurship compulsory subjects, rural green energy, local venture capital and above all, change of mindset from thinking someone will help us to actually doing things with whatever resources we have. At the Radisson Hotel, there was MEST Africa Summit, a Pan-African tech conference that brings together top entrepreneurs, investors, executives and ecosystem players from across Africa, Silicon Valley, Europe and Asia to explore the latest innovations and rising stars in the tech and startup space on the continent.

The focus on the most pressing topics facing African tech entrepreneurs and 4IR was top on the list. Here too startups have taken up the 4IR technologies to solve Africa’s problems.

At the iHub was the launch of Takwimu, a free and open development information service that aims to transform access to high quality analysis and data for African development policy makers, practitioners and advocates.

Some of the issues discussed included how Africa can develop a culture of using data to make decisions, as well as data accuracy and privacy which are expected to define 4IR.

Parliament must move with speed to pass the Data Protection Bill that has been in the House for some time now.

Then there was the launch of Koko Networks, a venture-backed technology company leveraging on Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence to distribute goods and services delivered in partnership with major suppliers.

All these events are putting Kenya firmly into the 4IR. The major concern for the continent, however, is the fact that only six countries in the entire continent are prepared to leverage of 4IR to solve some of the pressing problems in Africa.