The World Economic Forum for Africa, scheduled to kick off in Kigali tomorrow, will be an opportunity to create awareness about the anticipated Fourth Industrial Revolution, which technology enthusiasts term as ‘disruptive.’
Organisers say the forum will be a platform to discuss the changes expected in economies, corporations and societies courtesy of the industrial era, as well as deliberate on opportunities within and emerging risks.
The forum will run under the theme, “Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation.”
In essence, the theme according to officials, seeks to open up discussions such as how African economies can use digital technologies to facilitate development as well as build resilience in an increasingly competitive global market place.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to see a transition from the current digital technologies era into the industrial revolution which experts have said will influence production, consumption and interactions, significantly impacting economies.
In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Prof. Klaus Schwab, the executive chair of the World Economic Forum, defines the era as one to be characterised by intelligent robots, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, neuro-technological brain enhancements, genetic editing, among other disruptive changes.
Prof. Schwab’s book explains that previous industrial revolutions have seen mankind move from dependence on animal power to digital technology, enabling mass production.
The anticipated era, however, will see a range of new technologies that will combine the physical, digital and biological aspects, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, according to the book.
In a pre-forum media conference in Kigali, yesterday, Elsie Kanza, the head of WEF Africa division and member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum, said the meet will not only focus on what needs to be done to prepare the continent for the digital era but also highlight how it can be done.
This will involve aspects like change of polices as well as re-prioritisation of resources, she said.
“Right now, only about 20 per cent of Africans are connected to the internet which is a core infrastructure for the fourth industrial revolution. We need to look at the challenge of the inequality gap to ensure no one is locked out,” Kanza said.
This will also inform and influence new business models that require to be put in place to facilitate trade.
The forum will also address the skills gap being experienced in a number of countries on the continent to ensure that a huge section of Africans are digitally literate to participate in the fourth industrial revolution.
The energy deficit across the continent will also be up for review at the forum as the digital technologies largely rely on energy solutions.
On the relevance of the theme at a time when countries are dealing with far more ‘pressing’ challenges such as food security, security, poor education systems and insufficient health care, Kanza said the digital era would connect Africa’s resources to address underlying issues.
“The agenda is feasible because if we accept that we are living in this new reality, then we can consider how we engage with it. This is looking at how we can drive digital transformation by connecting all of our resources and not just some of them. This will also be through sharing stories of those that have been connected and have been transformed as well as the development story of Rwanda and how it can be scaled up,” Kanza said.
Fruits of the forum
Over the years, the forum has served the continent’s development through the launch of a number of initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations in 2000 and the launch of the NEPAD agency, a partnership for Africa’s development.
The Investment Climate Facility for Africa, which is another facility for Africa that works to help governments to improve their environments for doing business, was also borne of the forum.
From Rwanda’s perspective, the forum will serve multiple purposes, including showcasing the opportunities in the country, sharing progress attributed to digital transformation and networking with potential partners.
The Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, Amb. Claver Gatete, said the choice of the theme and agenda resonate well with the path taken by Rwanda in development outlined in Vision 2020.
The vision, among other targets, aims at positioning Rwanda as a middle income country by 2020 and transforming it into a service-led economy.
Gatete said information technology and digital transformation was a key pillar in the much sought growth and development.
He said already, the IT sector was responsible for about 3 per cent of the gross domestic product, and was responsible for supporting multiple other sectors, including provision of public services.
“That is why we believe that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is going to become a big pillar in our development path,” Gatete said.
More than 1,500 delegates from across the world are expected to participate at the forum.
About 10 heads of state and government have confirmed ttendance as well as numerous business leaders representing corporations from all across the world.