Quality education and fostering a culture of innovation are key ingredients if Africa intends to fully participate in the fourth industrial revolution.

Coming late to industrialization, Africa and its young entrepreneurs have an opportunity to be the prime beneficiaries of the new techonological age. If this is to be the case, strengthening the African digital and technological ecosystems will be paramount as they are the foundations for the 21st century’s knowledge economy and are key enablers of sustainable innovations and new employment opportunities.

Industry 4.0 took centre stage at the opening of the 9th African Union Private Sector Forum which kicked off, at the CSIR International Convention Centre today. Organized by the African-Union (AU), the South African Department of Science & Technology (DST) and the NEPAD Business Foundation (NBF) in collaboration with Andalem-research and advisory firm, the forum is being held under the theme, “Accelerating Africa’s Industrialization through Digitization and Youth Techno-preneurship”.

 

The three-day event is an ideal platform for vibrant discussion among representatives from ICT companies, industrialists and the public sector, to harness the benefits of digital technologies and technopreneurship to accelerate Africa's economic transformation and sustainable development in the digital era.

 

“As the world is transitioning from a resource based economy to a knowledge based economy, the African Union will remain committed to a digitization and the harnessing of Africa’s demographic dividend through investments in youth”, said African Union Commissioner for Economic Affairs Victor Harison.

 

One of South Africa's primary foreign policy objectives is to promote the African Renaissance through regional integration. Since the adoption of key regional and continental strategies, including the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap, SADC STI Strategic Plan, the AU's Consolidated Plan of Action and STISA 2024, the Department of Science and Technology has been promoting the expansion of innovation-led economies amongst its African partners.

 

This has meant that the DST's strategic focus in its international partnerships, has resulted in 61 jointly funded science, technology and innovation (STl) projects with key partners in the continent. In addition to this, 13 AU and SADC initiatives are actively supported by the DST. The DST has also leveraged its vast portfolio of international partners to secure R113 million to advance capacity building initiatives in the continent.

 

Addressing the opening event, the DST’s Director-General Dr Phil Mjwara said South Africa’s hosting of the 9th AU Nepad Forum is only fitting.

“Creating regional and global frameworks for building Africa’s capacity in science and technology related to information is crucial as connectivity and digitization are the foundations for the 21st century's knowledge economy, and are key enablers of sustainable innovation and new employment opportunities” says South African Department of Science and Technology Director General, said Dr Mjwara.

 

Population trends reveal that in 2015, 226 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24 lived in Africa accounting for 19 per cent of the global population. This percentage is projected to increase to 42% by 2030, placing Africa's 54 countries in a strong position to exploit the early stage of their demographic dividends and significantly grow their economies. With Africa being the youngest continent in the world, developing a highly skilled youth population is increasingly becoming a requisite feature of Africa's development trajectory. This sentiment is echoed in the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA 2024) which aptly states that Africa must harvest its population demographic dividend, especially the energy and creativity of women and youth, to drive its development agenda.

 

“Africa’s future is digital and Africa’s potential is its youth”, said Lynette Chen, CEO of NEPAD Business Foundation, “we are glad to make of our very first partnership with the African Union a platform that promotes Africa’s industrialization 4.0 and technopreneurship”.

 

Chen said Africa must ensure that its young population receives quality education to ensure that the continent creates a pool of highly skilled knowledge workers. The NEPAD CEO added that while the 4th industrial revolution will lead to economic growth, and increased competitiveness, it will not produce the massive jobs.

 

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The event will cover technologies that are enabling the 4th Industrial revolution, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in the African context, and private-public partnerships for creating a conducive environment for science and technology capacity building, connectivity, digitization and technopreneurship.