Africa has an opportunity to forge a different path than the rest of the world when it comes to the future of work.
As the nature of work in the rest of world changes, Africa has the opportunity to adopt a different approach which will help grow the continent’s economy.
Globally, there are massive job losses in “old” manufacturing sectors that are susceptible to automation while job gains are being driven by product innovation in “new” sectors.
According to the World Development Report 2019 Africa, on the contrary, is disadvantaged by where it is today.
The report indicates that digital technology adoption has the potential, if harnessed effectively, to transform the nature of work for all Africans.
How Sub-Saharan Africa will survive tech disruption
Sub-Saharan Africa is unlike other regions in several ways including lower levels of technology adoption.
It has a much smaller manufacturing base, so automation is not likely to displace many workers in the coming years.
Most African economies still have low levels of demand for products that are commonplace elsewhere. These include products such as televisions and refrigerators, so the cost and price reductions from technology adoption are more likely to help firms grow.
This means there will be the ability to create more jobs for all and the production of more affordable products—to the extent that production takes place in Africa.
Additionally, most African workers tend to do informal work, so usable technologies designed to meet their productive needs have the potential to help them learn more and earn more.
In most African economies, there is no “old” or “new” sector—there is however enormous scope for innovation and growth across all sectors, the report adds.
The reason for focusing on digital technology adoption in Africa is because digital technologies have the potential to help build skills not just for a privileged few, but for all workers.
These include those with low education and limited opportunities—and to boost productivity and create better jobs in all enterprises, including informal ones.
Faster internet in Africa has increased jobs not only for workers that have gone to university but also for those whose highest level of education was primary school level.
Competition, capital and capacity for Africa
Turning the promise of digital technology into reality depends on putting the right supportive policies in place—what this report and others refer to as “analogue complements.”
These include competition, capital, and capacity—Africa’s “three C’s.”
Governments need to ensure that market competition is sufficient to spur and enable rival businesses to adopt new technologies and expand output at affordable prices, thereby generating demand for jobs of most skill types.
Businesses need more than money to expand in existing markets and enter new markets. They need better entrepreneurial and worker human capital and better physical infrastructure capital—reliable electricity and transport as well as digital infrastructure.
Finally, governments need a stronger capacity to increase public investment in social protection.
This will help to support greater risk-taking by entrepreneurs and workers and to support workers in their transitions between jobs.
The challenge of expansion of social protection is more daunting in Africa than elsewhere because of low initial coverage, huge needs and limited fiscal resources.
African countries should get started on their path toward digital transformation by prioritizing the three E’s.
First, enable entrepreneurship: let good ideas flourish no matter where they come from—so that African entrepreneurs build apps that enable Africa’s workers to build their skills as they work.
Second, enhance the productivity of the informal sector: create a business environment that helps boost the productivity of informal businesses and workers—rather than focusing on trying to formalize them.
Third, extend social protection coverage: improve revenue collection, rebalance government spending, and more effectively coordinate development assistance.
The report says that the future of work in Africa could be bright.
It is up to government policymakers and businesses to make bold choices and investments today that will pave the way for the next generation of African workers, inventors, and entrepreneurs to innovate and thrive.
Countries with the fastest internet connectivity in Africa
As of October 2018, among the top 10 countries with the fastest internet connectivity in Africa include Uganda which was ranked 10th in Africa and 115 globally.
The country had 2.6 million active social media users with an internet penetration rate of 44 per cent.
Ranked ninth on the continent and 112 globally was Tanzania with 23 million active internet users and a mobile internet subscription of 99.6 per cent.
Nigeria came in 8th and 108 globally with 162 million active internet subscriptions and a mobile internet subscription market penetration of 84 per cent.
Namibia was ranked 7th with download speeds of 10.82 and upload speeds of 8.19 Mbps. It was number 106 globally with 1.6 million mobile internet subscribers and a mobile internet subscription penetration of 110 per cent.
Mauritius was ranked 6th on the continent and 106 globally. The country’s mobile internet subscription market penetration was at 101 per cent.
At position 5 was Côte d’Ivoire with a global ranking of 91. Its mobile internet subscription market penetration was 80.
Kenya which is a hub of innovation and East Africa’s economic hub was ranked 4th and 87th globally.
The country’s mobile internet subscription market penetration was at 83 per cent.
Egypt preceded Kenya at position 3 with 28 million users. The mobile internet subscription market penetration in that country was at 83 per cent. Globally, Egypt is ranked 85.
Morocco came in second in Africa and 72nd globally. The country has 526,080 smartphone users.
At position one was Tunisia with a global rank of 71.
Woking flexitime in East Africa
In 2012, a survey by global property manager, Regus, showed that some companies in East Africa were embracing flexible working hours.
The survey titled Flexibility Drives Productivity Employees indicated that with flexitime, the companies’ productivity had increased 51 per cent.
Countries in the East African region are seeing employees shifting outside the 9-5 job schedules as internet connectivity increases.
The survey covered 203 companies in East Africa.
Companies adopting flexitime are able to cut costs since they can reduce the spaces they need.
This means that realtors in the office space sector will be left with a bitter taste in the mouth as more and more companies shift to this model.