Knowledge drives the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To participate in it, African countries need to rapidly build skills in sciences, information and communications technology, engineering, manufacturing, and mathematics (the drivers of future jobs) while accelerating investments in research and development.
In 2013 Africa’s gross expenditure on research and development was about 0.45 percent of GDP, compared with 2.71 percent in North America, 2.10 percent in Southeast Asia 1.75 percent in Europe, 1.62 percent in Asia, and 1.03 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean [Chart above]. Africa was home to just 2.4 percent of the world’s researchers (1.1 percent for Sub- Saharan Africa and 1.4 percent in North Africa), compared with 42.8 percent in Asia, 31.0 percent in Europe, 18.5 percent for North America, and 3.6 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean. The share of researchers in Germany (4.6 percent), the Republic of Korea (4.1 percent), and France (3.4 percent) is larger than that of the African continent as a whole [Chart below]. Too few scientists and engineers in Africa work in sectors that drive economic transformation.
In 2010, for example, the share of college students in engineering, manufacturing, and construction programs was 7.3 percent in Burkina Faso, 3.0 percent in Burundi, 4.3 percent in Cameroon, 4.5 percent in Mozambique, 5.6 percent in Madagascar, 5.9 percent in Ghana, and 12.8 percent in Morocco [Chart below]. In 2014 the shares in Austria, Germany, Malaysia, and Mexico were all above 20 percent.
Africa has made advances in digital and mobile technology, disrupting banking, retail, and telecommunications. The mobile money transfer platform, pioneered by M-Pesa in Kenya, has helped improve financial access for urban and rural households. Innovations in digital and mobile technology are affecting both the service sectors and the productive sector.
Mobile phones allow farmers to access crop prices to increase their bargaining position. Investments in high-speed internet and the spread of smartphones across Africa should make it possible to continue scaling up innovation in digital and mobile technology.
Various empowerment programs can help African countries address these employment challenges by embracing technology and digital skills to drive innovation, creativity and focusing in building smart cities through the numerous unemployed and underemployed growing African populations.