This is a short summary of my panel discussion in the EC.
It is very important to be conscious of the dislocation which AI can bring in the future. But today, Africa’s main problem is not necessarily AI but electricity to power the engines upon which AI would run. While we have progress through the applications of ICT, sustained prosperity will only come when Africa builds anchors and pillars for modern economies through infrastructures.
I am not moved by the promise of leapfrogging anyone because drones can send blood supplies to remote villages in Africa. I would hope a future where roads would be built will come. As global organizations, from European Commission to World Bank, support Africa on the path to deepen our capacities to redesign our economies, time has come to fund entrepreneurs over small businesses. Entrepreneurs build nations; small businesses feed families – that is noble, of course. But their impacts are not similar. Entrepreneurs will scale their visions, fixing the labour paralysis while small businesses will remain as they were created for years. Where we fail to see that, our policies will not advance Africa.
So the initiatives Africa needs would be those initiatives Europe and America dealt with many decades ago. I am a core believer that no African leader should focus on mobile apps unless he or she had provided 24/7 electricity in the cities. The mobile apps are ephemeral without electricity: the creators would not scale and become entrepreneurs. They would just remain apps makers because the citizens they want to serve cannot advance their economic states without critical infrastructures.
Yes, if the African farmers – more than 65% of all workers- could have access to decent electricity, they would become more productive. With electricity, crop wastes would drop. They would make more money and just like that, they would have more money to support the businesses of the apps makers. If the farmers improve productivity, we would cut poverty in Africa by huge margins. In short, if we double farm yield up to the point of sale, poverty will drop by 30%. And that means farmers, players in the largest sector in Africa (by labour participation), will have more money in their pockets. That would create a virtuoso system.
The future looks promising but we need to deal with key issues to make it happen.