Serial digital entrepreneur and 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 made this call during a breakfast talk with select entrepreneurs from Africa and Asia in Dubai Marina on Sunday.
Ekeh, a renowned digital enthusiast and global advisor to Microsoft, disclosed that Africa has 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. How? By creating resources that will empower more ventures for employment of our teeming youthful population. This is essential because the rise of computing and the coming of 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.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 Luc Cortebeeck, Vice-President, Governing Body of the International Labour Organization(ILO) 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 etc.
“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. Remember, robots are not dumb and deaf; they do not go to church, night vigils, mosques or village meetings; they don’t belong to labour unions and social clubs, do not technically fall sick and only require servicing every 37 days; hence more productive than humans.
“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.
“If Africa does not prepare for robotics, the continent will be completely displaced by quality goods from Asia and other continents at cheaper prices. As we speak, Google and Tesla are making huge progress with the assembling of driver-less cars using robots while advancing in technology for remote charging of electric cars – a move that will radically change the way we live, commute and completely eliminate the use of petrol and drivers. In another 10years, most corporates will deploy these cars without drivers and zero fuel which shall drastically reduce the cost of doing business and shareholders will celebrate their Management. The question then is: who will purchase tech products coming out from Africa in a few years’ time since these will be considered sub-standard and too expensive?”
While urging the participating entrepreneurs not to lose hope, he noted that the sweeping digital upheavals is a learning curve for them.
“Most of you from Asia may be partially disrupted but you have the tact to realign. However, my biggest fear is for most African countries whose leaders and private sectors are not anticipating a light-weight but wealth filled future. It will be a disaster to deny their citizens the right to wealth which is the core strength of this century in which no one is created by God to be poor.
“For those of you who are Nigerians, some of you migrated to the UAE and Asia for survival but you must enhance your profile with skills to anticipate the future. You have earned exposure and a level of confidence but you must quickly skill up and return home to lead those of us with analogue businesses and mentality. It is clear that any company that would survive in the third quarter of this century must be a technology company: hotels, airlines, banks, etc. shall all transit to technology companies.
“In spite of the depressed economy, we have globally celebrated corporate giants in Nigeria such as the Dangote Group, Globacom, just to mention a few, so there is no better time to start thinking of bringing home digital civilization. Consider the booming youthful population, growing sophistication and literacy levels, the desire to live well and lifestyle patterns – these are major factors that make Nigeria the best place to invest in and reap bountifully.
“Do not be discouraged by the number of billionaires in the system but wake up to the opportunity to create legitimate mega wealth. In Nigeria, these opportunities are limitless as I started there from zero to become somebody today. My story shall be documented soon,” he concluded.