Africa lags in ICT, not ready for 4th Industrial Revolution - report

Cape Town - African countries are not equipped to transition to a Fourth Industrial Revolution economy and even the most tech-savvy countries on the continent, such as South Africa, lags developed countries. 

This is according to the latest Africa Competitiveness Report, which was launched on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa that took place in Durban last week. 

The report analyses the competitiveness of African countries, but place their individual performance in the larger context of the Global Competitiveness Report that assesses the competitive landscape of 138 economies the world over. 

South Africa scored 58th place out of 138 economies with regard to information and communication technology (ICT) use, ahead of Mauritius (72nd), Botswana (83rd), Namibia (96th), and Kenya (105th). “But [these countries] are still far behind the frontier in the adoption of ICT technologies,” the report noted.
There has been some progress, but despite these advances, the gap with advanced economies on ICT usage has increased, hindering the capacity of the continent to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

“Although mobile coverage has improved significantly, Africa is lagging on broadband speed as only 1.4% of Africans have a fixed broadband connection,” according to the report. 

The construction of fixed broadband lines does not seem to be proceeding as fast as mobile technology hardware, despite a relatively large increase in investments from public-private partnerships.

At the same time, data package subscriptions are still relatively expensive. As a consequence, only about 20% of the African population has regular access to the internet—which will be a critical issue for future development. 

“Because most economic activity conducted online, such as cloud computing and video content—requires greater data usage, bandwidth and computation power, low access to fast internet reduces the size of digital markets and limits the possibilities for providing online services.

In addition, lack of high-speed connectivity is also a critical bottleneck for developing models of production for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which are inevitably built on the infrastructure of the digital revolution.

Because participating in the digital economy requires adopting international ICT standards, it will be difficult for any African economy to compete in providing services or to benefit fully from receiving services. 

Mismatch between skills and jobs market in SA 

The report also noted that South African graduates generally fail to meet the expectations of employers. 

“Mauritius has managed to improve its talent pool past South Africa. Despite hosting six of the top 15 African universities, South Africa’s skills level is not improving sufficiently.

Over the past 10 years, South Africa’s higher education quality levels have decreased relative to the expectations of employers, while in Mauritius they have improved expectations of employers, while in Mauritius they have improved steadily,” according to the report. 

The mismatch between qualifications and the required skills set was also discussed at the WEF this past week. At a panel discussion about youth unemployment, Hamilton Ratshefole, country manager for IBM said universities’ curricula or not aligned with what is required in the private sector.
“We require a digitally skilled graduate who can build apps and who can be developers,” he said. 

“We’re a country that is obsessed with people who have gone to university, but we should rather train people for these kinds of jobs.” 

He suggested that high school learners are taught to develop in the language of development from grade 10 onwards.

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