The unstoppable proliferation of networks, sensors, AI, and automation throughout Africa propels a revolution into an unknowable future. There is a proliferation of cutting-edge innovations, such as surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software, unmanned aerial vehicles, robotics, and “smart cities.” The government’s ability to collect taxes and reduce wasteful spending has benefited from digitization — video surveillance and face recognition systems aid law enforcement in the aftermath of terrorist acts. Drones are transporting essential medications to areas in dire need. However, there is always a price to pay for progress. Drones release the possibility of an autonomous weapons arms race, while sophisticated malware enables new types of criminality, and surveillance technology drives new repressive measures.
African countries’ stability and safety are profoundly affected by the development of new technologies. The lasting impact of the digital revolution, however, will depend not on the technology itself but on how it is used. Greater peace and prosperity may be possible in Africa if the continent’s governments learn to harness the benefits of new technology and mitigate the threats it presents. The risk of falling behind exists, though, and many nations may be among them. After the COVID-19 epidemic, African leaders must decide whether to use new technologies for repression, division, and war or boost governance, transparency, and inclusive efficiency.
The fast expansion of the internet across Africa has been hailed as proof of the continent’s technical maturity and a crucial driver of economic growth. Since the turn of the century, at least a quarter of the world’s population has gained access to the internet. By 2030, it is expected that three-quarters of Africans will be using the internet, putting the continent on roughly equal footing with the rest of the globe. Mobile technologies alone have created 1.7 million employment and contributed $144 billion to the continent’s economy, equivalent to around 8.5% of GDP; thus, the potential is immense.
Rapid growth in internet access in several African nations has led to real changes in people’s daily lives. Platforms like Kenya’s M-PESA and Nigeria’s Flutterwave have propelled Africa to the forefront of mobile peer-to-peer finance. As a result, nearly half of all mobile money accounts worldwide are based in Africa. Even though it is one of the world’s poorest countries, Sierra Leone has recently set up a Directorate of Science, Innovation, and Technology (DST). One of its ideas is a “national financial data architecture with embedded automated financial tools,” which would help streamline government operations and cut down on wasteful spending.
However, the internet’s fast expansion across Africa has negative consequences. Broadband internet connection is out of reach for many people in rural Africa because of several factors, including a lack of inexpensive internet and stable power. One Senegalese study linked 3G internet coverage with a 14% rise in consumption and a 10% decrease in poverty, demonstrating the significant correlation between internet access and family well-being in Africa. Countries that fail to address the issue of internet access risk restricting the options available to their inhabitants, deepening the gap between rich and poor and further dividing the country along regional, political, and ethnic lines.
The ability of different African countries to adjust to the present climate of geopolitical instability and technological advancement will continue to vary widely. If digital technology continues to increase, some of the most forward-thinking nations might ride their wave to wealth and peace. Only three African countries — Mauritius, Rwanda, and Kenya — rank in the top 50 of the International Telecommunications Union’s global cybersecurity commitment ranking, all because of their thriving, technology-driven economies.
If African nations want to reap the benefits of the digital revolution in terms of stability and growth, they must do more than accept new technologies as they become available. Analyzing potential hazards and unintended consequences is equally important. Increasing internet connectivity is important, but so are other factors like cost, security, and accessibility. Africa stands to gain much from the innovative use of drones and AI. Still, this growth might be dangerous if there aren’t proper plans, regulations, and legal frameworks to control its proliferation. What African governments should do in response to the spread of new technologies is no longer a theoretical subject, and this is partly due to the demands of the COVID-19 epidemic. Time is of the essence.
Throughout Africa, you can see evidence of the ongoing digital transformation. The final stop? It’s impossible to tell.