Africa is home to some of the world’s greatest digital innovations. From medical applications to inventions aimed at enabling the continent’s educational system, the continent is not just experiencing a digital revolution, but it’s also solidifying its place as a global leader in science and technology.
The number of young people creating life-changing digital applications in Africa continues to grow. In Mozambique, counselors are using Short Message Services to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS, while in Nigeria a do it yourself generator that can produce six hours of power just from a liter of urine was invented by a group of 15-year-old girls. And in Zimbabwe, a 24-year-old engineering student has managed to come up with a machine that turns plastic into diesel.
Despite such innovations, Africa is still struggling to reach the Millennium Development Goals, which are quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty, while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability around the world. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 233 million people died of hunger in sub-Saharan Africa from 2014 to 2016.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon points out that “one of the most effective channels for eradicating poverty, creating wealth, and enhancing competitiveness is through the acquisition, adaptation, and application of relevant technologies.”
Role of Africa’s Women
Africa is driven by the tireless contribution of its women. In fact, African women are not only the fabric that holds cultures together, but they’re also the energy that drives and determines social change and development. It is no surprise that more girls are enrolling in formal and vocation-based, technology-related classes.
All sectors of Africa’s economy (commerce, health, education, culture and religion, education, politics, and infrastructure) rely on the successful implementation of digital technology, a transition that could shift the continent’s economic classification from third world to first world within the next 20 years. But how can this be achieved?
Here are three practical ways — which I call “The R Effect” — Africa can make its transformation:
- Re-structuring Africa’s Educational System
The format of education in Africa during the 1990s was theoretical rather than practical, where students were taught from books instead of experiences. This trend has negatively influenced a generation of African graduates who don’t have a solid grasp of the needs and demands of the job market. Unemployment of college graduates in Africa has been attributed to failed economic systems, lack of political will, and an unfavorable environment for start-up businesses.
But most of all, the biggest factor contributing to unemployment in Africa is the inability of graduates to develop practical solutions for pressing problems, such as hunger, disease, maternal mortality, repression of information, and institutional corruption.
This trend can be avoided if African governments adopt strategies inline with the evolution of digital technology. Kenya’s rapid adoption of Information Communication Technology (ICT) dramatically transformed the country’s economy, resulting in the growth of approximately one-quarter of the country’s gross domestic product.
- Retaining Local Technologies Over Foreign Ones
Africa’s economy suffers from the non-consumption of home-grown products and services. The preference for foreign goods has resulted in governments bypassing local innovations in favor of foreign ones under the guise of “quality and durability.”
In 2005, heads of the African Union collaborated with the New Partnership for African Development to launch a practical Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action with the aim of expanding Africa’s technological innovation in the core sectors of the economy. Unfortunately, the initiative hasn’t resulted in any substantial progress, because “many of our countries devote considerably lower funding” to home-grown innovations, according to the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Abdoulaye Janneh.
- Revolutionizing health care systems through innovative digital technology:
When the Ebola outbreak ravaged West Africa in 2014, Lagos, Nigeria, through the use of indigenous technologies, was able to revert the consequence of the outbreak thanks to indigenous tech entrepreneurs Seyi Taylor and Bankole Oluwafemi.
What exceptional thing did these Nigerians do? They developed an interventionary web portal aimed at reaching millions of Nigerians and Africans with tidbits of information on the deadly virus — all in 24 hours! It gained over 1 million views in barely two weeks, successfully raising awareness for Nigeria’s online community while also reaching the poor and vulnerable who were without access to the Internet.
Africa is gradually evolving to the point where growth is reliant on the innovative breakthroughs of “indigenous” digital firms. With more than 90 percent of Africans having access to mobile phones, governments need to realize that the destiny of the continent is mostly dependent on practical policies and transformational leadership grounded in the development of local digital initiatives.