Africa in Danger of Digital Disruption, Says Ekeh

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Emma Okonji

Chairman of Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh has raised the alarm over an impending digital disruption in Africa occasioned by the challenges of mass unemployment and the failure of most African states to match the rapid pace of digital evolution.

He raised the concern during a breakfast talk with select entrepreneurs from Africa and Asia in Dubai Marina, UAE, recently.

Ekeh, a renowned digital enthusiast and global advisor to Microsoft, disclosed that Africa had barely 13 and a half years to avert the impending disruption which may throw the continent into the proverbial ‘Dark Ages.’

“Nineteen years ago, I had warned on the need for Nigerians and Africa, as a whole, to wake up from a self-imposed slumber and follow the pace of digital evolution. Africa must create resources that will empower more ventures for employment of our teeming youthful population. This is essential because the rise of computing and the coming age of super-computers is bound to take many jobs away while making others redundant.

“This warning was largely unheeded as only a few paid attention. As at today you have over a million high tech incubation centers in Asia alone while Africa has less than 500 and most of them less equipped and politically driven. But we are beginning to see the consequences today. Unemployment is rife and has transformed into a major problem confronting many African economies with no concrete solution in sight,” Ekeh said.

According to him, with the global pace of advancements in ICT, the situation is bound to worsen. Many more hands and jobs will be displaced by technology and the failure to expand and create more industries to accommodate these losses will be felt more harshly, he posited.

Ekeh’s position was echoed in a recent presentation by the Vice-President, Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Luc Cortebeeck, who mentioned new technology as one of the major challenges facing the future of work. Cortebeeck disclosed that the world is suffering an official unemployment rate of 210 million people, with an estimated 600 million extra jobs needed to fill the gap by 2030.

According to Ekeh, Africa has a limited period of time in which to act to avoid being left behind by the rest of the world.

“A major digital disruption will happen in Africa 13 and half years from today. Last year, we had about 15 years left but it is now 13 and a half years for this disruption to climax for those not prepared. The signs are already here. Internet of Things is progressing at a high speed; major countries are investing in robots and what I regard as digital oracles such as IBM Watson, and others to replace humans in many areas of endeavour including law, warehousing, factories, medicine, security, traffic control, among others,” Ekeh said.

“The major concern for Africa is that this might cause a revolution as investors will have no choice than to prefer robots for example over humans to run their operations.

“In my hunger to anticipate and prepare for the future, I lost millions of dollars with other investors from Europe and Middle East in Asia last year in our research on advanced technology but please note that, many others with critical infrastructure at their places of birth are succeeding.  Mine was a focus on solutions to avert disaster that could erupt in my country not too long from today. We lost money as a result of the lack of certified research incubators and credible local database of certified knowledge workers in Africa. A lot of us had to engage in research in Asia to find solutions to advanced technology and robotics because of their hunger to lead the world from the second quarter of this century.”