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How Africa Can Adapt to the Digital Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution does not mean the end of traditional manufacturing-based development models in Africa, but it will require governments and policymakers to become more innovative and experimental. Africa can find a path to the economy of the future if its governments are ready and willing to adapt.

LONDON – The Fourth Industrial Revolution is reshaping the world of work. While policymakers in the West are struggling to respond, the task facing African governments appears even more daunting. In navigating the challenges and opportunities of the digital age, the continent’s policymakers must be willing to adapt and experiment.

Most of today’s developed countries, as well as those that transformed their economies in the second half of the twentieth century, relied on export-oriented manufacturing to boost productivity and create large numbers of jobs. But robots, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing may change manufacturing so much in the coming years that African countries aspiring to follow the same path will not get the same bang for their buck, especially in terms of job creation.

Yet, as we argue in a recent report, these and other technologies will also offer African governments new ways to tackle social challenges and boost economic growth. For example, the use of sensors, Big Data, and machine learning could greatly increase the continent’s agricultural productivity. Applying artificial intelligence to personalized learning platforms could transform basic education in many African countries, where results remain poor despite increases in enrollment. And blockchain technology could facilitate transactions that require high levels of trust, such as land purchases.

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