Africa’s industrial/manufacturing advancement has always lagged because of the lack of a knowledge economy to drive innovation. The emerging digital creator economy however seems to be causing a knowledge revolution that will fill this gap. Many young Africans (Millenials and Gen Z) are self-taught on a variety of topics like food, beauty, coding, and deploying these skills to create products and services that are not only contributing to the e-commerce industry and but also leads to upward mobility for this class of young Africans (on the continent or diaspora).
It is so clear that the internet has provided young Africans with the tools they need to re-shape their political and economic futures, but it requires collective action in mobilizing this new social and financial capital. As more young Africans engage and create in the digital world, they create the knowledge bank necessary to make innovations that can improve the standard of living on the continent. Take for example how influential social media has been in helping the youth organize and articulate their wants, or for example how Nigerian youth have built a music industry that is a global trendsetter, or how the West now has a fondness for West African grains and condiments as a result of the healthy organic food movement.
As optimistic as I am about technology and the new opportunities, I am concerned about how this may impact the future of the standard of living for Africans more broadly. Questions still remain on if it can address the enormous structural deficit caused by decades of mismanagement — for example, can technology fix the quality of education in the Primary and Secondary school curriculum? How can we harness these skills to make vocational training of better quality? Can it provide meaningful inroads into health care? How can it help with the transport infrastructure deficit? Can it allow us to catch up to the world of AI, robotics, and biotech? Or should we just focus on fixing our basics?
I think technology will affect us in two ways — the quality of teachers and the quality of students. Specifically, technology can help to improve human capital indices and this is an area for further research and collaboration.
Quality of teaching/thought: it is an understatement that the quality of our Higher Ed is dismal, but we always have anecdotal stories (backed up with the statistics e.g. Nigerians are the most educated African immigrant group in the US) about Nigerian and African students excelling wherever they go abroad. The internet has opened an avenue for experts on various topics and subjects to reach a variety of eager and ready-to-learn audiences. This means a university student at UNN studying mathematics can also learn about AI and robotics online even if it is not offered at his school. This reduces the disadvantage Africans have long experienced in the area of access to the most recent and relevant research or knowledge. The cost of these courses may still be a barrier for many but there are also many excellent and free resources available.
Quality of students: those who are not lucky enough to seize the digital opportunities, what happens to them? Particularly, the ones who couldn’t scale through the poor Primary — Tertiary Nigerian System. Or maybe they graduated but are still unemployed, joining the teeming millions of unemployed Nigerians. These are the ones I think about and hopefully, soon we will have more answers.