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How ‘Digitalization’ can Alleviate Poverty in Africa

Poverty in Africa
Poverty in Africa is no longer news, the continent which is often referred to as the land of opportunities has remained in absolute penury, hunger and worst of them all abject poverty.

The continent with its rich natural and human resources is unfortunately facing a humanitarian crisis, who would have thought of this? The child that had the highest prospect in the family while growing up has turned out a big burden to other family members.

In many nations, GDP per capita is less than US$5200 per year, with the vast majority of the population living on much less (according to World Bank data, by 2016 the island nation of Seychelles was the only African country with a GDP per capita above US$10,000 per year. In addition, Africa’s share of household income has constantly reduced over the past century by drastic measures. In 1820, the average European worker earned about three times what the average African did. Now, the average European earns twenty times what the average African does. Although GDP per capita incomes in some African countries has been on a steady rise recently, the truth remains that they are still far from other developed countries of the world in terms of fighting hunger and poverty.

How can technology combat the age long menace of poverty in Africa?

Before going any further, we need to pause for a while, if possible take a cup of water and digest this question perfectly before trying to attempt an answer. You need to be honest about the fact that artificial intelligence (A.I) and technology has disrupted the economic value chain in Africa and the world at large. You will be living in denial when you begin to downplay or refute the fast changing effect of technology on continental and global economics.

For example, when spread sheet software was invented in 1980, economists predicted heavy losses of job in the accounting sector. And, in a way, they were right: Since then, the United States has lost 400,000 accounting jobs. What they didn’t predict, though, was that spreadsheets would also create customer service jobs — 600,000 of them! You can see where technology is driving towards.

There is an escalation of poverty and unemployment in the African continent today because the continent has failed to move with times, the region has failed to move with other countries into the new post-industrial society of science and technology. Conventional wisdom here in Africa which is unfortunately held by most of its habitants and even its leaders is that there are just two primary roads to prosperity: manufacturing and natural resources. While this wisdom is incomplete and obsolete, the region has failed to identify several brand-new pathways to economic prosperity. For those that want to hear the truth, the richness of your country doesn’t just stop at how many natural resources you have beneath the ground, nor the seize of industries and factory plants saturated across the cities in the country, while these two conventional production value chains are important in growing societal wealth, the honest truth is that there is an on-going disruption in that value chain with the advent of technology.

The unemployment rate in Africa has sky rocketed over the years, the reason for these is simply because we are still struggling to assemble our economy into the industrial society fully, while other countries have ushered themselves into the post-industrial society.

How can Nigeria the poverty capital of the world have an unemployment rate that is higher than 24%? How can youths in South Africa be talking about joblessness? When counties like China, Singapore, USA, Sweden, and even Norway are creating opportunities for its people with the use of technology and data driven economic policies.

For example, with the right support, subsistence farmers in these post-industrial societies use digital technology to build small- and medium-sized agribusinesses that drive GDP growth (not to mention improve nutrition). Similarly, connecting entrepreneurs to business and government systems, technology is used as a link between more people and the formal economy, thereby increasing their access to opportunities, social protections and other benefits — while also enabling governments to tax them to support important services like education and health.

So what is preventing the continent of Africa from embracing Technology?
This is a very complicated question to ask as to why Africa is yet to fully embrace technology in its economic blueprint for combating poverty and ensuring global development. The continent has so many issues that is preventing its full digitalization, I mean from poor leadership, to poor education, lack of basic amenities( You will first eat, have cloths to put on and shelter on your head before you start thinking of tech solutions) How do you explain to a farmer in rural Kastina state that a mobile application can connect him with his fellow farmers from all around the world to sell his products, you might be wasting your time as that is not the value chain he is accustomed to, he prefers to take his produce to the village market and sell at giveaway prices than to use technology to earn more for himself. Are you going to blame him? No. In the fight against poverty in the continent, the continent must invest massively in education and research. Digitalization without education is a waste of time; you will be pouring water in a basket. Owning a smartphone doesn’t ensure digital smartness, we have millions of smartphone users in Africa who are yet to explore the opportunities at their disposal.

The Way Forward for the Continent of Africa
The continent must also ensure that all people have access to digital technology, and right now billions still don’t. Take mobile phones.

It’s true that mobile phone coverage now reaches an astonishing three quarters of the world. But for someone living under the poverty line in Tanzania, for example, a phone costs at least two months’ salary. In Nigeria, people pay as much as 1,000 Naira for 1G worth of data — an amount that would feed a single person for a day or two.

Digital technology won’t help fight poverty if simply acquiring it pushes people back to deeper poverty.

Ndubuaku Kanayo is a Journalist and Digital Transformer

Tweets @Kanayo_Oap

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