Bonjour l’Afrique!

Molweni bantu bakuthi!

Ndewo Afrika!

Jambo Afrika!

Muraho bite Afrika!

As always, Jambo Africa Online wants to encourage Africans and World citizens to occupy the most forward trenches in the war against the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s all in our hands. COVID-19 is indeed a litmus test on how strong and tenacious the humankind is. Earlier this week, it was suggested that the IMF intends to avail US$650 million to developing economiesto support their efforts in fighting the scourge of COVID-19. 

The relevance of the Industrial Revolution (IR)

Thomas Sankara said: “He who feeds you, controls you.” Africa, I’m asking you – who controls you? The answer will come when you fully consider the Industrial Revolutions including their opaque and overt outcomes.

It is always important to understand the reason for certain comings and goings especially if they reflect on the state of affairs in human development. The evolution of humanity is one of the most complicated processes that nature provides as the subjects, in this case humans, have a very direct participation in negotiating with nature on what the future ought to look like. What creates this capacity is the level of intelligence that the human species possess. 

Coupled with this capacity is an unfortunate human faux pas – an ability to impose force by some over others. From the time that Homo Sapiens started becoming the dominant group on earth, the saying, ‘survival of the fittest’ dictated the manner of resource management and distribution. 

Humanity, honestly, must ensure that every human being forms part of the category of the fittest, whether they are black or white; women or men; and, residing in developed or developing countries. The owners of such capacities are the current captains of the happenings, (mis)happenings and lack of happenings across the globe though they, sometimes, act as nameless drivers of industrialisation. 

True definition of Industrial Revolution

Industrialisation, obviously, dictates a process where newer methods of centralising capital ownership are brought before a public that, mostly, has to go along or be left marginalised. Industrialisation, from the onset, made owners of capital to become major players. The owners of capital dictate on the accumulation of the means of production; appropriation of the raw materials; the process of manufacturing; and, the availability as well as sale of the final products. Hear me well, business owners always have to industrialise or improve their technology, I agree but for me the bone of contention lies in how all humanity benefits from this. 

If left to the barbarians of capital, it can work out to be the most heart-breaking, indecent and unholy marriage between politics and economics. 

Again, it is also true that IRs have always been characterised by the presence of newer methods that rely less on manual labour which has to be provided by human beings. It leads to a destruction of jobs and at the same time creation of new approaches to doing the same things or more. 

IR walks hand-in-glove with globalisation and the outcome is a world whose geographical, commercial and political entities constrict in numbers (the few survivors making more profits) though population continue to grow bigger. 

An indecent marriage

So this unholy marriage between capital and politics becomes a source of despair and conflicts in creates relevcertain geographic areas to be sources of conflict. This is due to ability of the IR leaders to appropriate the raw materials that such regions provide to facilitate the IR leader’s industrial programmes. Therefore, owners of capital own the manufacturing plants which exploit the raw materials and the labour forces. The ordinary citizens of the various countries and regions which are the sources of the raw materials do not benefit. The IR leaders, therefore, unscrupulously manage the need and execution of conquests of territories, wars and, indeed, are the true benefactors of the armed forces that continue to wreak havoc in our troubled countries. The conquered people’s tears and blood irrigate the lives of grandeur enjoyed by the victors.  

The First Industrial Revolution and Africa

First Industrial Revolution, driven by the British in the latter half of the 1700s, is where capitalism began to rear its ugly head, almost uncontrollably. 

The invention of the Steam Engine brought new rules in the management of the economies. Agriculture was no longer the sole backbone of economies. The steam engine, mechanisation and electricity became drivers of the economy. It was a battle between humans and machines. To facilitate the works of the new railroads, coal extraction became an important source for power generation which led to countries like Britain enhancing their bullying tactics to the rest of the world with Africa being their biggest victim.

This was a period wherein Europeans arrogantly defined themselves as a superior category of humanity. In fact, their behaviour defined Africans as mere commodities and even likening them to animals. Europeans introduced slavery in which Africans were sold and bought as though they were sheep or donkeys. The owners of capital competed over ownership of other human beings – not other light skinned Europeans but Africans who were seen and treated as less human. 

They stole or snatched children from their parents, husbands or wives from their families and persons from their communities. The most horrible acts of such victimisation were carried out against the west African region. Africans were forced to go and do slave work in the British, French and Spanish colonies. The first Industrial Revolution was an international legalisation of race based slavery. Small countries like Portugal who, at some point, were leaders in explorations were protagonists of colonialism as this added to their Gross Domestic Product. I mean, Portugal had two major colonies in Africa (namely, Angola and Mozambique) and a huge chunk of the south American continent. Spain colonised a bit of Africa but had a gigantic share in the centre of the South American continent. The British were spoilt for choice colonising almost the whole continent of north America.  

The cotton that they produced in the Americas went on to develop the economy of the United Kingdom. 

There was no crime called human trafficking. Human trafficking is, therefore, a product of the inhuman elements of the first industrial revolution. 

The Second Industrial Revolution and Africa

The second Industrial Revolution started in the latter part of the 1800s and was buoyed by the introduction of electricity, the telephone, the boom in the steel industry, internal combustion, nuclear energy and the oil industries. 

IR leaders found themselves with capacities to make telegrams, telephones, cars, etc but did not have enough of the raw materials for this. The notorious “Scramble for Africa” conference of 1884-1885 was, in simple terms, a meeting of European IR leaders to decide on how they could share the spoils from Africa that could fuel the second industrial revolution. European economies needed raw materials to respond to the new demands. 

Demand for steel, copper, gold, diamond, oil, Uranium, etc was at its biggest level. Again, Africa possessed these and became the biggest victim. 

Remember Cecil John Rhodes? He said: “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better.” The African raw materials made the likes of Rhodes, Barney Barnato and their British 2IR ilk feel that they had a godly responsibility to impoverish and plunder southern Africa. 

The Third Industrial Revolution and Africa

The Third Industrial Revolution, after the 1960s, was inspired by a boom in the digital technology industry leading to the introduction of computers, electronics, the internet, cellular telephony and space technology.

Although the raw materials used in developing the technologies for the third revolution were sourced from Africa, the continent benefited very little. Only 8% of households have computers in Africa. Only 22% of Africa has internet accessibility. To add a further challenge, most African countries have the internet at exorbitant prices because consumption is small and the infrastructure is generally inadequate. Zimbabwe has the most expensive data in the world selling a gigabyte at US$75.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Africa

It’s a dog-eat-dog world or a winner takes all global economy. Inequality is becoming worse. Only 1% or so of the world, as a result owns half of the world’s wealth. 98% or so of the world shares the other half. A very serious economic disruption with possible dire consequences for Africa.

The 4IR is going to break the barrier between the physical, biological and digital spheres. The Fourth Industrial Revolution launches an era that provides less respect to the difference between human beings and technology. Human beings and technology are amalgamating (This is not a joke or some folk story) into one.

More work will be done in front of computers. How far are we, as a continent, just in accessing or contributing to the development of such technologies so that they can benefit us.

Advanced wireless technologies, automated vehicles, voice activated virtual assistance, 3D-printing, destruction of the ordinary media channels (replaced by IT driven mechanisms) and simulation of human intelligence, among others, are now a certainty. Printing companies, sporting companies and local TV stations are suffering.

Where to from here?

There is no time for prevaricating. We risk increasing the digital divide and lowering our continent’s global competitiveness. We need to partake in creating more direct jobs for Africans and influence our governments to make the public sector responsive to the demands of the global economy.

Africans must look at the 4IR, jealously guard the African interest. We must not approach this revolution like some victims pleading for favours. We know what is at stake and, therefore, let us not postpone our contribution to the advancement of humanity.

Allow me to give you a shopping list or should I call it a wish list of things that I believe Africans must consider in response to 4IR. And these are:

  • Battle between the rich and the poor

At first, it may look like an African problem but in the long run it will develop tentacles that would demand of the poor across the racial, class and geographic lines to stand up and engage in what scientists call a process of natural selections. Africans and the poor across the racial divide have it in their hands and capacity to contest this battle and wrestle for their continued survival as people benefiting from every advancement.

  • Business in rural Africa

Let an African, in his or her rural house, also sell a product to a person or service to a Malaysian or Canadian 24/7. Online platforms, though expedited by the demands of COVID-19, have taken a leading stature in global development. WiFi connectivity should be declared a human right in Africa. Conducting your business in a rural area (where many Africans are located) should not become a disadvantage. 

  • Labour-skill mismatch

We need to fix the labour-skill mismatch. This is very key. I think the elders must adopt a more relaxed approach when it comes to the demands made to the younger ones on their schooling. The classes of the 70s, 80s and 90s had their 3IR and responded to them in ways that prepared them for their professional development. In the 80s, it was impossible to think of a car that can talk to a human being and it was reserved for films and movies. 4IR is giving machines a character similar to that (like the Night Rider of the 80s – at the risk of revealing my age).

Give the young ones a chance to explore, in a guided way, through the a myriad of challenges and opportunities presented by the 4IR. Allow Africans, young and old with creative juices, to start making offers on behalf of Africa to this unavoidable process. 

The 4IR technologies are replacing many of the lower skill jobs. So what becomes of these human beings whose skill was relevant in the 3IR and has now been overtaken by the new demands of 4IR? Education, as early as primary schooling, needs to be re-configured.

  • Protecting the African market

National governments, Regional Economic Communities (e.g. SADC), and the African Union (AU) must play a role in protecting African consumers and businesspersons as this process unfolds. This is pivotal to the success of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTFA). 

Protect our traditional taxi industry. In one previous editorial note, I noted that if I want to use a metre taxi and I’m in the middle of Johannesburg, I simply download an App that will send a car to me at a price. The driver gets a percentage and the App owner gets the other amount – the challenge is that the owner is an American company based in New York. A South African taxi owner suffers because they have a competitor that is sitting in another country benefitting from a South African business.

  • Stand up Africa

As Africans, we must stand up and not be outsmarted by some 4IR leader sitting in New York or Wuhan. This is an Industrial Revolution wherein we must, unapologetically, wrestle our influence with whoever is standing in our way. Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Oliver Tambo, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Franz Fanon and other African greats demand that of us.

Enjoy this weekend and the weekend ahead and I hope to engage with you again next Friday.

Andile Msindwana



Follow me on Twitter: @MsindwanaAndile