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Advancements in AI and robotics are Africa’s coming challenge

Africa faces many development challenges. Add to that list artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. AI alone will likely eliminate 85 million jobs globally by 2025, as Africa’s population is projected to grow exponentially for decades to come. 

A team of Africans at a conference at work

It certainly will not be easy, but fostering a generation of next-gen techies and support workers may be a worthwhile wager for Africa. (Creative Commons)

AI combined with advances in robotics, advances in computer aided design and manufacturing, the evolution of automation and mechanization, represents a direct threat to Africa’s growing young labor force. 

While AI is also expected to create some 97 million jobs by 2025, more than it will eliminate, these will be in areas where African labor doesn’t have comparative advantage. One third of Africa’s labor force is active in subsistence agriculture, jobs that will be directly threatened by advances in AI and robotics. 

The jobs being created by AI will be in big data, machine learning, and information security, to name a few. To be competitive in these areas, African governments will have to not just spend more on education, especially higher education, but retool education curriculum as well.

Current projections show that Africa’s population will double by 2050. In the next three decades, Africa will become home to approximately 2.5 billion people, 25 percent of the world population, and will grow to a staggering 4.2 billion by 2100. The number of jobs Africa will need to create by 2050, and beyond, will be astronomical. 

Regions like Sub-Saharan Africa will need to create 18 million jobs each year through 2035, a number that will grow larger thereafter. But, Sub-Saharan Africa is notoriously weak in the area of education, is constantly challenged to properly fund education at all levels, and 27 percent of its population is illiterate. This doesn’t position Sub Saharan Africa well for a new AI world order. 

As Africa’s population grows, it will need to re-think education in the light of emerging technologies that have the potential to make manual labor virtually obsolete. But, with foreign debt service in 20 African countries currently exceeding total expenditure on education, finding more money for any kind of transformation will be challenging. 

This discussion isn’t just about finding more resources for education. Africa’s total expenditure on education averages out at a robust 5.08 percent of total expenditure, compared to the G7 average of 6.2 percent. But, by 2050 Africa’s population will dwarf that of virtually every other continent. Educating young people in ever expanding numbers is part of the challenge, but preparing a young workforce force to be employable in an AI world is a bigger one. 

The reality is that countries with negative population growth rates seem to be doing more to prepare for the new dawn of work, than the African continent whose fertility rates are approaching the highest in the world. If this doesn’t change, Africa’s exploding population can become more of a curse than a blessing. 



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