"Building the African Nodes in the Global Network
of Technological Collaboration"
The global scale of the Internet, the ubiquity of mobile devices, the ever-declining costs of cloud computing and storage, and an increasingly networked physical world are creating an explosion of data unlike anything we’ve seen before. “From the very beginning of time until the year 2003,” says Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “humankind created five Exabyte of digital information. In 2013, five Exabyte are produced every ten minutes”. As the world around us is increasingly becoming connected, capable of receiving, generating, sending relevant information, self-aware and smart, it is driving unprecedented efficiency and effectiveness. It’s turning data into knowledge and knowledge into actions that create new capabilities revolutionizing all spheres of human activity: society, politics, culture and the economy. With what Cisco calls the Internet of Everything and what GE calls the Industrial Internet, we are growing a central nervous system and are at the down of a global coordination of actionable knowledge for an inclusive and sustainable world.
A large portion of the Internet of everything is the proliferation of sensors in our devices, appliances and our environment at astounding rates. More than 12 billion devices around the world, including computers, smartphones and wearables are connected to the Internet. And this number is expected to increase dramatically, with estimates ranging from 50 billion things in 2020 to more than a trillion in 2050 according to Cisco. This has the potential to transform activities such as managing supply chains, manufacturing, building infrastructure and providing healthcare, by collecting data to monitor and optimize activities at an extremely detailed level. Any activity that “touches” multiple things or people across value chains is a candidate for reimagining with the help of networked sensors. The opportunity is estimated at more than 14 Trillion Dollars over the next ten years in the private sector alone by Howard Charney, Senior Vice President of Cisco US.
In Africa, natural resources have been the pillar of recent economic growth. In 2011, raw and semi-processed goods accounted for about 80% of African exports. Agricultural commodities, timber, metals and minerals, and hydrocarbons have accounted for approximately 35% of growth in Africa since 2000. BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have continued to expand their trade volumes with Africa. For example, trade between China and Africa increased from $10 billion in 2000 to $190 billion in 2012. These countries are now the continent’s largest trading partners with trade expected to exceed $500 billion by 2015 according to a recent UNECA document.
The Information and Communication Technologies market is also experiencing an impressive double digit growth in Africa. From USD 66 billion in 2009 for a subset of 10 countries representing approximately 65%, the African the ICT marketplace could be well over from USD 200 billion in 4-5 years according to estimates of the World Bank. This represents a strong local opportunity for technology development and related services. An increasing number of start-ups led by young African entrepreneurs are also providing solutions to local problems and having a global impact.
The exponential progress of Technology in general and Information Technology in particular is clearly creating new opportunities to birth Africa’s transformation in the digital era. Coming late to industrialization gives Africa the opportunity to create a model that places a high premium on emerging technologies and be based on a profound understanding of their astounding progress and disruptive impact on global value chains. Africa can not only to benefit from the order of magnitude of gain in effectiveness and efficiency in sectors such as infrastructure, energy and agriculture, but also to leapfrog certain stages of development directly into decentralized, personalized and digital modes of social services provision.
Africa’s challenge for the next decade is to build on the African mobile wave, which has birthed mobile banking, and scrutinize emerging technologies, create innovative digital services in other sectors to continue the transformation. This will require creating frameworks for technological R&D and innovation by supporting intergovernmental and government-private sector collaborations to get over hurdles like access to capital, property rights, insufficient tech labor skills, and inadequate infrastructure. Building a strong ICT backbone and strengthening the African digital and technological ecosystems is paramount as they are the foundations for 21st century’s knowledge economy and are key enablers of sustainable innovation and new employment opportunities.
The recent partnership between Andalem and NEPAD Business Foundation has a vision to become the driving force for a vibrant, job creating economy that stays on top of technology trends and that leverages the current African demographic dividend. It aims to build strong Public-Private-Social ecosystems to spark the creation of regional technology and open innovation clusters that generate new industries, and centers of excellence that closely study leapfrog opportunities in AU-NEPAD development frameworks. By federating African governments through existing configurations of regional institutions, international organizations, and the private sector, this partnership aims to build the African nodes in the global technological cooperation mesh that fosters future technological breakthroughs. Some of the explored thematic areas of excellence are:
- Internet, Sensor, Mobile, Social, Cloud, A.I. & Big Data Technologies
- Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)
- Nanomaterials & Nanotechnology
- Low Cost Genomics, Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology
- Robotics and Drone Technology
These regional clusters will be the foundations for reducing the cost of access internet, enhancing technology labor skills, creating incubation hubs that support technological innovation and entrepreneurship, and encouraging innovative business models in all AU-NEPAD development framework.
India’s recent achievement of the Cheapest-Ever Interplanetary Mission to Mars on its first attempt, with a fraction of the cost of other missions, has once again proved the third world’s capacity to innovate in resource constrained environment and that, with the right ecosystem in place, breakthrough innovations can spur from anywhere. African youth’s Darwinian intelligence, resilience and capacity to innovate in resource constrained environment are Africa’s biggest asset for its economic transformation and sustainable development. Beyond Africa, African youth must also embrace global responsibility to be the drivers of tomorrow’s breakthrough innovations for humanity’s grand challenges, and the leaders of global sustainable industries. Developing innovation ecosystems at regional levels must be subject to a continent-wide effort, since most of the countries don’t have technological R&D capacity building as a top priority, or are still too weak to do it alone. These regional Technology & Open Innovation Clusters can lay a foundation to Africa’s technological inclusion and active participation in international cooperation like EU Horizon2020 and contribute to global technological advances. They should be Post-2015 development Agenda and Agenda 2063’s flagship programs.