The rapid expansion of networks, sensors, artificial intelligence, and automation across Africa is driving the continent to new heights.
Today we talk about emerging technologies such as drones, robots, surveillance cameras, and smart cities; topics that are becoming relatable in the African context. With technology, everyone gets a share! What do I mean by this?
Well, consider these: the adoption of digital tools can help to increase the government’s revenue, counter corruption, and at the same time, deepen transparency. For law enforcement agencies, technology like facial recognition software can enable them to respond to terrorist threats.
For practitioners in the health sector, drones can deliver emergency medical supplies to save lives. I can go on and on, but I believe you see where I’m going with this.
Technology has vast potentials, however, as it is with man-made inventions, there’s a catch. Now, don’t get me wrong, the digital revolution is not only phenomenal but it’s our reality, albeit one that comes with innumerable benefits and some costs.
Going back to the previous examples I cited, sophisticated malware enables novel forms of criminality, surveillance technology powers new tactics of repression, drones unleash the prospect of an autonomous weapons arms race to name a few of the devastating consequences of misusing technology.
To say that the digital revolution’s ultimate legacy in Africa, will be determined not by technology, but by the way it is used is not an empty talk. The onus is on leaders of African nations to seize the opportunities and reduce the risks associated with emerging technologies.
Doing so will position their countries towards attaining greater stability and prosperity. Why is this crucial?
As Africa is still grappling with the aftermath of the COVID 19 pandemic, its leaders could choose to use new technologies to enhance government’s productivity, increase wealth and accountability and promote inclusion at all levels, or wield it as a tool for tyranny, propaganda, and conflict.
Internet spread across the African continent is one of the main drivers of growth and a symbol of the technological development of the continent.
In 2019, more than 525 million people in Africa used the internet and almost 75% of Africans have been predicted to come online by 2030 if current growth patterns hold.
Already, the proliferation of and access to mobile phones are changing how people interact and do business in Africa. Astute entrepreneurs are leveraging mobile connectivity to build products and services targeted at African consumers.
Although the rapid spread of the internet across Africa is largely constrained by expensive internet, epileptic power supply not to mention low broadband penetration in low-income communities, we cannot deny that the current state of connectivity in Africa is juicing up digital transformation in the continent.
From financial services to health and education, Africa’s innovative tech startups are disrupting traditional models of service delivery.
Fintechs and financial inclusion
In the fintech sector, a recurring theme is how to deepen financial inclusion, providing financial products and services to the unbanked and those in underserved communities.
Due to a lack of access to banks, insufficient funds, financial illiteracy, among other reasons, a large portion of the continent’s population remains unbanked and therefore does not keep or manage money through traditional financial institutions. With this situation in mind, many African fintech startups have undertaken the task of addressing the financial inclusion gap.
The launch of platforms such as Kenya’s M-PESA, Nigeria’s Remita and many others have pushed Africa ahead of other regions to claim its position as the hub of mobile, peer-to-peer finance.
Commenting on how SystemSpecs is driving financial inclusion in Nigeria, Ezinne Obikile, Executive Director at SystemSpecs had this to say:
“At SystemSpecs, all our solutions were actually built with financial inclusion in mind. while considering the nature of the merchants that we also serve. Remita, our flagship product used by both the government and the private sector, makes it easy for payers in urban and rural areas to perform transactions.
In designing our payment systems, we’re careful to include multiple delivery channels to ensure that payments are accessible to everyone.
We’ve built APIs that enable us to integrate with microfinance banks and mobile money operators so that we can extend our services beyond our immediate environment to any part of Nigeria.” She added.
Africa and emerging technologies
The 2020 Government AI Readiness Index published by UK-based Oxford Insights reports that Africa is “playing catch up in the area of artificial intelligence due to poor technological development, lack of infrastructure and a labour force that is not critical and innovative.”
The quote above reveals the perception that since most African countries are low income and rank low on the list of the world’s forceful technological powers, we are way out of our depth in accessing and using new technologies. This, however, is further from the truth.
A number of African countries are already utilizing emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and drones, in innovative and disruptive ways.
In sectors such as agriculture, banking, e-commerce, education, energy, health, and so on, the report found that at least 86 African companies in 17 countries were using 4IR technologies (AI inclusive).
In addition, Mauritius, Egypt, South Africa, Seychelles, Tunisia, Kenya, and Rwanda are among the countries ranked the highest when it comes to the government’s readiness for artificial intelligence (AI) related technologies.
Covid-19 and more innovations
What impact does the COVID-19 pandemic have on Africa’s digital revolution? For one, it has unearthed the potentials of African innovators, thereby fast-tracking the spread of digital transformation.
As reiterated, the pandemic has already led to remarkable innovation. In fact, research conducted by the World Health Organization states that 13% of all new or modified technology developed in response to COVID-19 came from Africa.
From, Lifebank, a female-owned Medtech startup that launched drive-in Covid-19 testing centres in two states in Nigeria to Ghanaian citizens who invented solar-powered hand-washing stations, African youths are proving themselves ready to steer the rudders of Africa’s revolution.
Threats and pitfalls
Even as life is moving exponentially online, there are more opportunities for malicious players to exploit digital technology. Cyberattacks in countries across Africa have risen, with criminals reinventing ways to catch unwary victims.
In a previous piece on the column, I explored the connection between Covid-19 and the rise in global cyber attacks. If you wish, you may want to review how organizations and individuals can remain alert to fraudulent online activities.
As Africans, we need not only concentrate on the rapid, and sometimes reactive, adoption of new technology to achieve stability and prosperity.
It is also important that we weigh the risks and externalities involved in order to strike a balance between innovation, regulation, and ethical use of technology.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch