African Development Bank (AfDB) president, Akinwumi Adesina, has pleaded with Africans to embrace technology, and governments to urgently move away from investing in the jobs of the past, but rather in the jobs of the future which is around the corner.
Addressing a panel, The New Tech Era: Job-killer or Job-creator?, which was organised by Africa Report and Jeune Afrique as part of the 2019 Mo Ibrahim Governance Week in Abidjan on Friday, Adesina said the "people who control data will control Africa".
"Coding must be compulsory, at all levels. The currency of the future is going to be coding," he said.
"Information technology must not be the exclusive privilege of the elite, we must democratise technology."
Panellists included Pascal Lamy, board director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and past Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Ivorian businessman Eric Kacou, Nigerian tech specialist Chioma Agwuegbo and Zyad Liman, publishing director of Jeune Afrique Magazine.
In his welcome remarks, Mo Ibrahim urged the panellists to think about ways to address the "tsunami of young people entering the job market."
In response to that call to action, Kacou insisted on the need for "a change in mindset to move from BBC or Born Before Computers to rethinking education to teach people how to learn and help them solve problems".
Panellists acknowledged the critical role the tech industry can play in Africa's economic transformation through the continent's digitisation. However, they agreed on the urgent need to upgrade the skills of the past, to do it fast, and move away from the social fear of technology.
Research has shown that if governments harness the full economic potential of just the internet, Africa could add $300 billion to its GDP by 2025. Also, 70% of all jobs will have an ICT component by 2020.
Opportunities to transform Africa through technology are endless. In agriculture, drones can monitor crops, Artificial Intelligence can speed varietal selection, and the Internet of the Things can control smart irrigation systems. Block chains can also aid food traceability.
"We must grab the opportunities…We must democratise technology. Africa should prepare itself. Digital technologies, including Artificial intelligence, big data analytics, blockchains, 3D printing are already upon us," Adesina said.
AfDB has made strides in building skills in technology and innovation with its Job for Youth programme. In all, 234 000 new coders and 130 Coding Centres of Excellence are being created for Africa to participate in the supply side of the digital economy. The bank is working with partners in the private sector, such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, to build technical literacy and arm people at all educational levels with the skills they will need going forward.
AfDB has invested €70m in a technology park in Senegal, to create a regional cluster of tech businesses in Francophone Africa. The tech park is expected to contribute to the diversification of Senegal's economy, creating 35 000 direct and 105 000 indirect jobs.
Additionally, the Bank has invested in several funds such as the TLcom TIDE Fund, Partech and African Technology Ventures to overcome the challenge of access to finance for tech entrepreneurs.
The Bank has also provided a US$30 million loan to the Rwandan Government to contribute to the innovation economy through the Rwanda Innovation Fund, focused on funding Tech-Enabled SME's and to develop Rwanda's entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystem capacity.