Africa not immune to disruptions

Former US President Bill Clinton once said: “No generation has had the opportunity, as we now have, to build a global economy that leaves no one behind.

It is a wonderful opportunity, but also a profound responsibility.”

In Davos last week, the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) ushered new buzz words in its theme, Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

These words are set to change how we do business in the coming days. What do these buzz words mean to Africa? In simple terms, the conversation at the WEF was about the impact of the digital transition on people and workers in the context of unprecedented global uncertainty, instability and controversy.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is characterised by a fusion of technologies that are blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Whereas some people may view WEF activities as a Western agenda, Africa is not immune to the disruptions brought about by the advent of 4IR.

With a young population, the continent will suffer most considering the fact that the youth population is ballooning at a time when unemployment is already a crisis. We stand to lose the most. Yet we were virtually not part of the different conversations that went on last week.

Under the banner Globalization 4.0, a series of “Global Dialogues” took place, including the future of diplomacy in uncertain geopolitics, the future of the economy, human capital, institutional reforms and economic co-operation as well as other cross cutting issues such as cybersecurity and risk resilience to improve our collective and integrated management of the key environmental systems (climate, ocean and biosphere)

The dialogue also focused on the need to extensively enhance delivery of services in the areas of “health, energy, communication and transport, among others, along with a global dialogue on technology policy to define the principles for new and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and gene editing, to ensure that they are underpinned by the necessary ethical principles and values-based framework.

”It is in our interest to make these conversations part of our everyday life since we don’t seem to be having a good strategy as what to do especially with workers who will lose jobs. There is reason to listen to, for example, what UHC2030 (a global partnership hosted by the by the World Bank and the World Health Organisation) said at the WEF on the need for social protection in health to ensure people who lose jobs from the digital transition are protected from financial catastrophe from health costs while embracing the digital transition. Universal health coverage (UHC), that is among the legacy agenda for President Uhuru Kenyatta, the World Bank reiterates, is about ensuring that people have access to the health care they need without suffering financial hardship.

UHC is also a powerful tool that enables countries to maximise the potential of their valued asset: human capital. Health is a foundational investment in human capital and in economic growth--without good health, children are unable to go to school and adults are unable to go to work. Dr. Githinji Gitahi, the Global CEO of Amref Health Africa and UHC2030 co-chair, who attended the forum, said “If we do not change the approach to technology and how its applied in the health sector, modern services will become inaccessible to the under privileged in our communities. Let’s build tech solutions for health bottom up.”

That is why the role of the private sector in universal health coverage is important in the realization that health is intricately linked to economic development. Like in healthcare, we must cascade downwards the dialogues that took place at WEF to the ordinary citizens.

The threat of impending unprecedented disruption is so real that we could be late in preparing for the future of: consumption, economic progress, education, energy, food systems, international trade and investment, digital economy and society, financial and monetary systems, mobility, manufacturing and production, infrastructure and development.

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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