[Column] Arthur Latim: Leveraging Africa’s demographic dividend in the fourth industrial revolution
20-01-2021 15:35:00 | by: Bob Koigi | hits: 2984 | Tags:

Africa's tech industry is still at an infant stage, with an industry wide revolution dubbed the fourth industrial revolution. Africa to some extent missed the first, second and third revolution and is yet to miss the fourth industrial revolution (4lR) which is mixed up with industry 4.0.

Tracing the industrial revolutions journey

The first industrial revolution is widely taken to be the shift from our reliance on animals, human effort and biomass as primary sources of energy to the use of fossil fuels and the mechanical power this enabled.

The second industrial revolution occurred between the end of the 20th century and brought major breakthroughs in the form of electricity distribution both wireless and wired communication, the synthesis of ammonia and new forms of power generation.

The Third industrial revolution began in the 1950's with the development of digital systems, communication and rapid advances in computing power which have enabled new ways of generating, processing and sharing information.

Navigating the next revolution, first IR started 1784 and involved steam, water, mechanical production, second IR started 1870 and involved division of labour, electricity, mass production, third IR started in 1969 and involved electronics, IT and automated production, while the fourth IR is about cyber physical systems.

The  (4lR) is an advent of cyber physical systems involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines, so Africans should know that 4lR represents entirely new ways in which tech becomes embedded with in societies and even our human bodies.

As one of the Founders of A.l, John McCarthy famously said 60 years ago, ''The future is already here. It is just not very evenly distributed''. So the key features of the 4lR-accelerating digitalization, A.l, cloud computing, robotics and 3D printing have obvious and important implications for education, employment and the future of work.

 This is especially true for African countries, over the past decade, the share of the continents under 20 population has expanded by more than 25 percent and is projected to be the continents largest age cohort by 2070.

As Africa meets 4lR, its youth will be its most important assets. But to capture this demographic dividend, African countries must overhaul their education systems to prepare for the coming tech revolution. While automation could increase skills premiums and exacerbate income inequality, it also could increase productivity and create new occupation for example a data scientist, robotics engineer and lots more.

As such, the 4lR represents a unique opportunity for African countries to leap frog over development hurdles with the help of tech. The 4IR will heavily influence which skills are needed in the labour market.

Around the world and even at my parent organization at Latim Group where we are a privately held diversified and fully integrated international technology conglomerate with subsidiaries like Kawil, demand is evolving towards adaptable social, behavioral, and non-repetitive cognitive skills.

Africa's investment areas

Let us take a case study of one African country for example Uganda’s digital economy snapshot, ICT contributes 10.9% to GDP in FY 2018/19 compared to 9.8% in FY 2017/18 according to NITA-U statistical abstract 2019,Fixed and mobile broadband penetration at 15.2% according to UCC, Broadband connectivity prices and affordability at 70US$/mbps according to NITA, individual access to broadband at 10.8% in 2017/18 according to NITA, population use of the internet at 38% according to UCC, smart phone adoption at 16% according to GSMA, unique mobile subscribers at 21,648,672 as of July 2018, 46% use mobile internet according to UCC,GSMA, mobile money usage data at 24.4m or 58% of population according to UCC.

So Africa's tech industry is booming. In 2015, l founded a software company called Kawil which is one of Africa’s biggest technology companies focused at engineering digital solutions to African challenges through software, internet and A.l with our parent organisation called Latim Group where we are focusing at building a fully connected, intelligent world for Africans.

Africa's digital economy is booming but it needs more homegrown software developers, Africa is on course to add $180 billion or 5.2% of aggregate GDP by 2025 thanks to the rapid growth of it's internet econony says a report from World bank IFC and Google. In 2012, the continents internet economy (iGDP) was estimated at just $30 billion or 1.1% of its GDP.

In 2020 iGDP contributed about $115 billion or 4.5% of $2.554 Trillion GDP says World Banks IFC. In the US the internet contributed around 9% of GDP in 2018, key to growing an internet economy which includes everything from banks and fintechs to agritech,e-health and venture capital will be growing the developer talent that builds the products and engines on which its run. Last year at Kawil there weren't enough developers based in Africa to service our company needs.

The IFC/Google report says there are nearly 700,000 professional developers across Africa with more than half in six African markets: Egypt, Morocco, Ugands, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. That is still relatively small against Africa's 1.3 billion people. California alone has 630,000 developers while Latin America has 2.2 million

Top ten African countries for software developers

There are another 225,000 developers in other African countries coming to a total of around 700,000 across the continent with some from Kawil and our parent company at Latim Group. According to World bank’s IFC, Google and GSMA., South Africa at 118,541, Egypt at 86,599,Nigeria at 83,609,Kenya at 58,175,Morroco at 46,483,Uganda at 17,989,Ethiopia at 17,488,Ghana at 15,008,Tanzania at 11,003,Coted'lvoire at 8,866

But Africa’s developer talent is younger than those in more advanced economies and the overall numbers on the continent are growing faster. Just a third of them receive their training through universities instead more than half are either self-taught or pay for online school programmes, speaking to the desire and broad ambition to acquire skills for future employment and entrepreneurship in countries with few existing formal jobs but also a shortage of  digital skills.

To date much of the developer talent in Africa falls into the junior developer category which presents its own challenges were 43% of developers have only one to three years of experience compared with 22% in the US. Google itself rolled out a program in 2017 to train as many as many as 100,000 developers over five years to help plug into the developer skills gap. Last year Microsoft said it would spend over $100,000 on software development center in Africa were our very own software company Kawil was involved.

As well as the fast growing talent pool one other notable positive is that there has been what report describes as ''real traction'' with growing numbers of female developers in African market  led by Egypt, South Africa and Morocco. Women currently make up 21% of developers in African countries compared to just 15% of junior developers in the US.

Arthur Latim is the Founder and Chairman at Latim Group


This column is a contribution to [Forum] What are the opportunities for the African Tech Industry in 2021?