In Blog Post

Africa and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Africa’s generalized image in the minds of much of the “developed” world is that of poor people, in some far off nation, possibly fighting somewhere, with great wildlife. While these are in part true, there is another side that the journalists rarely cover. It is the immense wealth of resources of Africa countries that can be their largest curse or their greatest blessing. All the drivers for economic growth are abundant and primed for exploitation, the question is who are and who should be, the beneficiaries.

Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya

If the natural resources of most African nations were utilized for local development and growth, as many are now attempting, then an economic revolution becomes possible at the grassroots level forever redefining the trajectory of the continent.

Though no two countries in Africa are alike, after visiting 15 different nations and studying the continent, I can elucidate a few broad insights. First, presently and historically, the exportation of raw goods for external processing is a main form of economic wealth. Take a look at Nigeria and their oil riches, DRC and their diamonds, and Northern Kenya’s natural gas as examples. Even the small holder farmer has fields sown exclusively for direct export crops.

Coffee farmers grow amazing beans and are sold back their labor in single serving Instant sachets. The coffee farmers do not process the coffee so they cannot enjoy the fruits of their labor equitably, even at the breakfast table. A Kenyan from Limuru tea country once came back from the United Kingdom and told me that for the first time, he had tasted the sweetest leaves of his life, yet they came from his homeland. The raw commodities of Africa fueled the industrial growth and economic development of colonial masters and their subsidiary colonies. Remember, the American Revolution was in part sparked, by tea no less, which could possibly have originally been grown in East Africa.

Now, fast forward to the East Africa I live in today. I have WiFi internet at home, M-pesa, running water, online shopping for electronics, food delivery, Uber and electricity. That is a giant leap forward in comparison to 10 years ago. Technology and infrastructure development are lessening the gaps between people and between nations.

The children growing up in Kenya are adopting American media culture at lightning speed. More than half of the population of Kenya are youth below to age of 20, and they are all eager to learn to use technology. The middle class have all the same smart phones, tablets, laptops, and Netflix, yes Netflix, as their American counterparts. Often we have access to movies on DVD even before the American market!

The Fourth Industrial Revolution of 3D printing technology and the localization of micro industries continues to level the playing field. Digital manufacturing brings the hope for the design and development of new products for Africa, in Africa. New designs for jewelry, parts for machinery and electronics, consumer goods, agricultural applications, and healthcare are being released daily and can be sent via email and printed anywhere in the world.

Plastic filament at the workshop and products made in Tanzania

The medical tools being designed and printed by Voices of Africa were made by volunteers and interns in California, the Netherlands, India, US, Canada, and Tanzania. All have been prototyped on our Tanzanian made 3D printers and are being tested in Tanzanian medical facilities. It is the first time medical tools have been designed and manufactured in Tanzania by Tanzanians.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution poses an opportunity to change the collective image of Africa. Youth have new prospects for the future, and the information they need to realize a brighter tomorrow is at their fingertips. If ever there was a proving time for the continent, it is now.

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