Taking the lead: Tech-savvy governments are key to Africa’s 4IR success

Business people exploring the endless possibilities of technology.

By Amrote Abdella, Microsoft 4Afrika Regional Director

At a recent conference in Johannesburg, a young college student posed a question to the Presidency of South Africa: “If we are introducing into basic education new subjects to be competitive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, like coding, why do we have ministers of education that are over 60?”

It was an interesting glimpse into the mind of a demographic most impacted by the digital era. If you look at any digitally transforming organisation, what sets the leaders apart is not just a clear digital strategy, but a culture and leadership poised to execute it. Employees today expect business leaders to be nimble, embracing digital tools to remain competitive and make strategic decisions with the future in mind.

This student’s question demonstrates that the expectation on governments is no different. As African countries work to become global leaders in the digital revolution, young people are looking for a tech-savvy and digitally mature government to boldly set the standards, and lead the way.

The benefits of a digitally skilled government

The benefits of a digitally-savvy government are many. Armed with technologies and the capabilities to use them, governments are empowered to be more agile, efficient, data-driven, transparent and connected to citizens. With machine learning and skills in data analytics, policy makers can be more forward-thinking, regularly re-examining policies, discovering new opportunities and mitigating risks for more productive and inclusive growth.

A Deloitte digital survey also found that public sector leaders who understand digital trends and technologies are three times more likely to provide appropriate support for transformation, compared to those who do not. High levels of involvement with technology typically result in greater investment, broader adoption and a greater number of successful implementations.

In a recent IFC report, African governments were criticized for having a slow and insufficient policy response to digital transformation. Respondents called for accelerated efforts in developing clear-cut digital agendas. This includes modernising school curriculum, training teachers, expanding broadband access, promoting a vibrant business climate by encouraging competition, and enforcing cybersecurity.

With more digital champions in government, imagine how much more rapidly Africa could implement this transformation, and advance its position as a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

In 2018, the United Arab Emirates announced that it wanted to become the world’s most prepared country for artificial intelligence, leading in AI research, development and innovation. To do so, they began efforts at government level, appointing the first dedicated Minister of AI. The effort was applauded for ensuring “a necessary focus for implementation as opposed to just talking” and ensuring solutions are based on the latest understanding of technology.

Taking the lead in digital transformation

For Africa to truly succeed – and lead – in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, innovative startups, technology companies and smart businesses need to collaborate on building an ecosystem where everyone benefits from technology. Leading this charge needs to be progressive governments with clear roadmaps that both define and enable the digital horizon.

Countries like Morocco are well on their way, through initiatives including the Maroc 2020 Digital strategy. But, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development points out, the success of this strategy depends on government capacity to prioritise, plan, manage and monitor ICT investments. Governments need to focus on retraining, attracting and retaining qualified ICT professionals in the public sector workforce, building the skills to cope with the complexities of the new policy environment.

With these capabilities, governments will be able to use technology as a tool to drive inclusive growth, create jobs, improve service delivery and take steps to reduce poverty – and take the lead in sustainably growing their emerging digital economies.


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