Developing countries must immediately take control of their own digital destinies or risk losing out on the Fourth Industrial Revolution race.
The sentiments were made during the launch of The Digital Manifesto in Nairobi, where African nations were urged to be firmly on the driving seat in unlocking their digital economies.
The manifesto titled The Digital Roadmap: How Developing Countries Can Get Ahead, shows how low-income states can harness new technologies to deliver inclusive development.
The Pathways for Prosperity Commission co-chair and founder of technology and energy group Econet, Strive Masiyiwa highlighted the power of digital technologies in growing businesses and national economies. He was, however, quick to add that to benefit from the new technologies, African countries have to design a workable plan.
“Digital tools enable entrepreneurs access markets and help governments deliver services more efficiently to citizens. However, without visionary planning and 21st century skills training for everyone, these same technologies over time could lead to job losses and escalate financial inclusion snags,” he said.
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as Pathways Commission, stressed the need for inclusivity in the digital realm, saying glaring gender gaps will hurt Africa’s development.
“Today, huge gender gaps in digital access are the norm in developing countries. If we invest in closing these gaps, women and girls can start to meet their untapped potential,” she said.
Stefan Dercon, professor of economic policy at Blavatnik School of Government, said Africa should avoid being left behind in Industry 4.0 as it happened in the Third Industrial Revolution of the 1990s.
“Now is a moment in history where every developing country has an equal chance to mould its digital future. Governments must show political commitment in delivering transformational plans. The right policy choices must be made,” he observed.
He added that developing countries must shake off the challenges they face and forge ahead in adoption of new technologies.
“Every country has challenges, for instance, corruption. You must see beyond these hurdles. Don’t use this as an excuse. Regulatory sandboxes must be created ... The wait-and-see mentality will be costly in ten years’ time,” he said.
Dr Kamal, chief executive of Mojochat, said a transactional model of public-private partnership will be key for developing countries to achieve inclusion in a time of disruption.
“It’s time for governments to use technology to attain incremental development. All ministries, all sectors should be anchored on technology,” he said.
Mr Bhattacharya sees a positive side to the technological brain drain in Africa that has seen many top notch software developers leave the continent for Silicon Valley and Shenzhen.
“During Industry 3.0 many Indian and Germany professionals left their countries for better perks but they came back after less than 10 years with more experience. Look at where the countries are right now,” he noted adding that if people don’t leave their borders, then their country will never change its world view on the global economy.
Daniela Rus, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Massachussets Institute of Technology, said work of the future will centre on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
“It’s time for ecosystems in developing countries to motivate children to create their own apps,” she said.
The lack of venture capital was identified as a big hindrance to the growth of the digital economy, and governments were asked to create incentives and friendly systems to boost entrepreneurship.
African governments were also advised to work together, and speak as “one technology bloc” regarding the global digital economy.
“These countries need to open up their borders for one another because they will need each other. The continent has 2 billion mobile money users which is a great step in adoption of fintech. They have to pull together, and speak as a continental voice regarding tech regulation,” said Mr Masiyiwa.
The global Artficial Intelligince (AI) is estimated to be worth over $16 trillion and this money, it emerged, will be split between the United States and China who will take up 70 percent of it.
“Of the remaining 30 percent, the African bloc should strive at get at least 10 percent. Lets create our own version of Silicon Valley, our own platforms whilst including everyone.”