Modern technology, with all of its astonishing changes, is entirely driven by innovations conceived in the human brain – an organ that weighs about 1.5kg. Judging by how we effortlessly carry it about in our heads, the human brain is little. Yet, a Stanford study reveals that the brain’s memory capacity in the average adult can store the equivalent of 2.5 million gigabytes digital memory of information. Staggeringly awesome; not so?
With the brain, humans can perceive and interpret the world, understand their place in it, and develop their environment in ways that suit their needs. No wonder the creation of innovative ideas is considered uniquely human, and it is subject to advances in every aspect of human endeavours.
We live in exciting times; the age of digital transformation and the realities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While there’s so much to celebrate, many African countries are not able to fully benefit from global advancements in technology. Erratic power supply, low Internet penetration, brain drain, shortage of digital skills, and weak public-private partnerships are some of our present circumstances.
As the pace of globalisation and digitalisation keeps expanding, so does the disparity between Africa and the rest of the world, particularly the developed economies. This gap engenders the need for African leaders to invest in capacity building.
Giving credit where it is due, the growth performance in Africa has picked up over the last several years. However, in this era of digital transformation, the focus should not solely be on natural resources but on developing human capacity as a pathway to economic growth.
Labelled the youngest continent, 75 per cent of Africa’s population of nearly 1.3 billion are under the age of 35, while almost half of the population are under the age of 15. The International Monetary Fund predicts that by 2035, Africa’s working-age population will exceed that of the rest of the world combined.
As for resources, our continent is blessed with a vast quantity. We have an abundance of uncultivated arable land, large oil reserves, natural gas, and mineral resources – to name a few. That said, the creativity and innovation of Africa’s youthful population coupled with our wealth of resources can play a key role in accelerating the continent’s economic transformation.
Prioritising capacity-building efforts will be a huge step in this direction. By this, I mean that African leaders and decision-makers need to have the right knowledge about digital transformation, and equip young people with the right skills to position themselves and become contributors to this digital economy. Consider how that can be done in the following ways:
It has been said that the digital capacity of a country is only as effective as its digital infrastructure. Frankly, I’m inclined to agree with this submission. We keep talking about capacity building, yet little or nothing will be accomplished if the structures and infrastructure required to strengthen learning are not put in place.
To illustrate, broadband connectivity in many African nations – when available – tends to be relatively slow, erratic, and costly. As such, countries like Botswana, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa are activating ambitious broadband strategies to increase Internet penetration rapidly, especially in rural communities. When connectivity services are accessible, affordable, and available, this will foster youth inclusion in the digital space. Needless to say, Africa needs to invest heavily in its digital infrastructure.
According to a World Bank survey across seven countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which represent about 40 per cent of the continent’s population, it was reported that one-third of teachers had not mastered the curriculum that they were to teach. This shows how Africa’s educational systems have sunk into a state of disrepair.
In this age of enlightenment, it is still confounding that millions of children are not enrolled in schools while many of those in primary school are failing to achieve basic proficiency in reading, writing, and math. Also, many institutions adopt antiquated and impractical academic curriculum that does not offer the skills and knowledge required to succeed in the digital world.
To address this, governments must update curriculums and entrust them to competent and accountable teaching staff, so they are able to churn out worldly-wise graduates who possess critical thought and digital skills. After all, a highly educated youth population can better utilise digital transformation and expand its frontiers.
Implementation of innovation-friendly policies
In the face of no action or hurtful policies, the continent risks a broken social order and an exodus of youths who may seek opportunities elsewhere. It is no longer news that young people are desperate to find greener pastures in popular migratory destinations such as Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Germany.
In response to this growing concern, the Founder of SystemSpecs, John Obaro, said, “A lot of our young ones find the lure of foreign countries irresistible, and organisations across the country are incapable of halting the emigration as some of the reasons adduced are justifiable. We might be unable to completely stop the outward movement of talents, but we can make it less attractive by creating an enabling environment for them to thrive.”
African governments should focus on enacting policies that support the activities of the emerging private sector, particularly young entrepreneurs. By creating a conducive and inclusive ecosystem, the youth segment will be able to put their resilience and proclivity for entrepreneurship to good use rather than flee abroad.
Possible COVID-19 third wave and NIN enrollment
On May 4, 2021, the Federal Government of Nigeria approved the deadline extension for the National Identity Number and Subscriber Identity Module data verification to June 30, 2021. The new deadline – the fourth – was given based on the request by stakeholders for an extension to make it easier for all citizens and legal residents to register.
Going by all the previous deadline extensions, it is clear that the timeframe given by the government is not feasible enough.
True, significant progress has been recorded as almost 54 million people have obtained their NIN, however the registration, even with a postponed deadline, still leaves a lot to be desired as it will only result in a crowd-induced frenzy.
Considering that another wave of COVID-19 pandemic is looming on the horizon and countries like India, Brazil, Argentina are already in the throes of a vicious third and even fourth wave, it will be a mistake to risk spreading the virus simply to comply with a deadline that may or may not be extended further.
To buttress this point, the Lagos State Government, through its Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, announced the impending third wave of the pandemic and the measures taken for its prevention in the state.
Let me reiterate what I have always stated about this entire SIM-NIN integration saga: this entire drama is not necessary. There are many routes we could have taken to achieve better results. A more practical way to go about it is to make the NIN enrollment exercise a never-ending exercise – a continuum, if you will.