Factory Nigeria Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

Africa’s Race Against the Machines

As the costs of automation fall relative to manufacturing wages, and as global industrial production becomes less labor-intensive, Africa will lose some of the advantages that it is currently counting on. In the future, it may not be able attract manufacturers seeking to capitalize on abundant, low-cost labor.

WASHINGTON, DC – By some estimates, automation threatens over half of all jobs in OECD countries. And now that the employment challenge is coming into focus, the scramble for solutions has begun.

For example, Bill Gates has called for a tax on robots, which could slow the pace of automation, and efforts to fund other types of human-centered employment. Former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, on the other hand, warns that such a tax would impede innovation. Others argue that governments should simply subsidize low-income workers’ wages.

What these perspectives on labor-replacing technologies share is a tendency to focus on advanced economies. But automation poses a very real threat to jobs in developing economies, too. In Africa, in particular, a burgeoning cohort of young people – 11 million entering the job market every year – is compounding the threat. Without careful policy planning, the continent’s anticipated demographic windfall could turn out to be a ticking time bomb.

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