Innovation rhymes with future, both can be African

By Sidi Ould Tah, Director General of BADEA

No week passes without some important news about the impact of technology in our lives. Such an impact is obviously not new. Several times, the pace of change has accelerated thanks to major discoveries such as printing, electricity or combustion engines. Some would argue that our contemporary experience of technological innovation does not significantly alter the dynamics of similar changes experienced in the past. Many, however, agree that something much bigger is going on. We grew up with negative perceptions about Africa’s development prospects. We engaged in discussions about aid effectiveness, poverty reduction or food insecurity. Growth was not part of the menu of options for nearly two decades before the turn of the century.

And then, almost like a tornado, the faith of most African economies began to shift. Favorable commodity prices, drastic debt reduction, improved macroeconomic performance and strong domestic demand fueled by demographic shifts have changed perceptions.

Africans have begun to dream of previously prohibited possibilities. New partners, such as emerging countries, have reinforced the idea that the continent could now contribute to global expansion. Structural transformation has entered the vocabulary of African policymakers, whose desire for accelerated industrialization has forced experts to review their supposed truths. As soon as raw material prices and demand began to turn south, the usual doubts about the future resurfaced. What’s up? A few things.

It is difficult to explain why products and exports occupy so much of formal economic transactions, but that is life. However, what is noticeably different is the threat of transforming such a structure into an industrialized economy as the world adapts to a wave of technological innovation that threatens traditional manufacturing and supply chains. corresponding global values.

Whether we like it or not, production lines will require less and less manpower thanks to more efficient machines, automation and robotics. In addition, the next wave will bring artificial intelligence, 3D printing and blockchain capabilities that will make additional work redundant. Any laggard in industrialization was already faced with poor infrastructure, skills gaps, complex intellectual property or overly regulated commercial standards. Value chains have become extremely sophisticated. Technological improvements have greatly contributed to higher productivity and segmented markets. Latecomers are now facing a new wave of substitutes that require an ability to cope with innovation. Africa is not a desert when it comes to innovation. There are examples of powerful technological innovations in the fields of finance, agriculture and health. Mobile banking continues to flourish on the continent after being mastered by the M-Pesa platform. The continent is a leader in this area, as is the introduction of electronic insurance systems. A teleradiology application giving medical imaging centers and hospitals the opportunity to outsource interpretation services was introduced by Medisoft East Africa.

Similarly, MedAfrica, a virtual library of medical information or Cardiopad, a Cameroonian computer tablet that allows cardiac exams, are leading the way in telemedicine. Leading African researchers at the University of Cape Town are studying how the accelerated use of genomics can help understand how the environment and human genes influence Africans’ susceptibility to certain diseases and their response to treatment.

The AgriManagr mobile app helps farmers automate certain processes, while Kilimo Salama offers a crop insurance system. Africa is home to the “Cherenkov” HESS-II, the world’s largest telescope located about 100 kilometers west of the Namibian capital Windhoek. The Kilometer Array Square (SKA) – the largest radio telescope ever built, sits in the Karoo, South Africa. It will produce by 2020 more data than current computer systems can absorb. Africa is already known for its frugal innovation. The creativity of business solutions found in its informal sector baffles many analysts. The problem with this good news is that they are not big job creators and do not change the very low value added manufacturing in African economies. But they show the African talent, the need for more incubators and the hope of a better insertion of the two in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Africa has a potential advantage over all other regions of the world. With the largest number of young people, who will become the largest labor force in China and India by 2034, and rejuvenate in this century, the continent will bid farewell to the aging population of the world. most industrialized over time. If this originality is transformed from potential into real assets, negativity and perceptions about Africa’s future will change dramatically. BADEA is sponsoring The Economist Innovation Summit in Nairobi to discuss ways to ensure Africa’s future is closely linked to innovation. For this to happen, we will have to put our young Africans at the forefront. They are not just the future. They are already present.


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