Davos - Africa can take a quantum leap forward via the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but a stable supply of energy, as envisaged by the New Deal on Energy for Africa, was absolutely critical.
This was the clear consensus at Thursday’s high-level session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, with panellists referring frequently to the African Development Bank’s New Deal on Energy for Africa, details of which were released on Wednesday evening at the WEF.
According to information from the African Development Bank, the New Deal on Energy for Africa is a partnership-driven effort that aims to achieve universal access to energy in Africa by 2025. The bank is working with governments and the private sector to unify all current efforts around achieving universal access in Africa and co-ordinate action across all existing programmes.
Thursday’s session, Africa’s Next Challenge, interrogated how the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which promises one groundbreaking advance after another, would impact Africa.
The session got off to a slightly bumpy start with Rwandan President Paul Kagame replacing his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, on the panel and Nigerian Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo joining the session in the late afternoon after being held up when his plane was delayed.
The session, which was held in partnership with CNBC Africa, considered the fact that although Africa was home to nine of the world’s 15 fastest-growing economies and had seen mass technological progress, productivity had fallen over the past 10 years.
Kagame joined Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina and Ericsson Sweden chief executive Hans Vestberg on the panel.
Kagame said everyone knew that energy was vital and that in Africa there was huge potential in many sources of energy. He said it was sometimes hard to understand why the continent hadn’t solved the problem of energy since all the ingredients were available.
He said government and business both had their roles to play, but political will was the starting point.
Desalegn concurred power, in both its forms, was key. He said strong leadership was needed to meet the main challenge around lack of power infrastructure.
Desalegn said a good quality, reliable energy source was necessary as this made industrialisation possible, adding that energy needs in his country were growing much faster than the economy.
Desalegn said Ethiopia was focusing on becoming a manufacturing hub, for which, of course, power was key.
Akinwumi Adesina of the African Development Bank said all parties could agree on three things: that Africa needed to diversify its export mix to include processed goods, it should focus more on inter-Africa trade, and the potential of its arable land needed to be unlocked via commodity-based industrialisation.
Moderator Bronwyn Nielson said Africans may also be tired of talking about the potential of beneficiation, which led Adesina to point to the foolish idea of beneficiation in the dark.
Ericsson’s Vestberg agreed Africa needed reliable energy but said technology would not wait for that to be in place.
He said the technology was already arriving and urged Africans to continue to embrace it and the opportunities it brought. Vestberg said almost all Africans would have a smartphone in five years. Just think, he said, what could be achieved then.