Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

OPINION: Our children are the future of the 4IR

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jul 17, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG - Imagine owning a technology managing electronic records and transactions of every third person on earth. It can be transformative. But Africa will not produce and own it. It is fast being parcelled out. In the song Awuthule Kancane, Mahlathini and Mahotella Queen refer to Africa as a country and not a continent.

The song is about the birth of a child in Africa and notes that this is because children are the future.

But will Africa realise the dream of children being the future of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR)? It is no secret that Africa as a region is poised to be the most populous in less than 50 years. The African population will double to two billion by about 2035 and reach three billion before 2050. By then every third citizen of the world will be African. What will this African nation look like in 2050? In 2014, my country privileged me to be one of a 25-member team advising the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon on what the Data Revolution would mean for people, the planet and prosperity.

In our report The World that Counts we raised the limitless possibilities the data revolution would portend. But, drawing from my experience in the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) movement in Africa, we warned about the sins of technology and money, which potentially would leave those technologically deficient behind. In 2012, then home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma hosted the CRVS summit in South Africa.

The resolutions included a programme of action with two yearly ministerial meetings of Africa Programme on Accelerated Improvement (APAI) of CRVS. By 2015 the agenda of APAI-CRVS was more ambitious. It included funding and how Africa could industrialise through information technology as a producer and not only as a consumer.

APAI-CRVS ministers would importantly determine not only the identification, but would be advised on the industrialisation import of electronic identity for Africa's development in the era of Data Revolution, given that every third person on earth would be African. Africa had created a value proposition that was not only pioneering, unassailable and redefining Africa's fortunes, but was attainable.

But no sooner had that happened that many from outside the continent sought to appropriate this value proposition and they have succeeded.

It is ironic that the birth of ID4Africa came to being around the same time, and it is not under the leadership structure of APAI-CRVS.

The Siamese twins of African statisticians and Home Affairs officials has died, as well as representation from the African Development Bank and the AU. Home Affairs officials remain, but as “ambassadors” of ID4Africa, whose executive team is not African. This arrangement is totally devoid of a key ingredient - CRVS as a driver of African industrialisation strategy we envisioned.

The 5th Summit of ID4Africa was held in South Africa at the beginning of this month. Newly appointed Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi chaired the meeting and his international relations counterpart, Naledi Pandor, delivered a keynote address. When officials and ministers finally meet in Zambia in October after three years - instead of two - the policy agreement of CRVS will be over an empty shell.

Africa created value, but that value has been appropriated by others.

Now 3billion Africans are poised to be enlisted on an electronic dining table as a meal for consumption by others.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him on and @PaliLehohla


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