The Information and communication technologies (ICT) sector in Africa has continued to grow, a trend that is likely to continue. Of late, mobile technologies and services have generated 1.7 million direct jobs (both formal and informal), contributed to $144 billion of economic value (8.5 percent of the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa), and contributed $15.6 billion to the public sector through taxation. Digitization has also resolved information asymmetry problems in the financial system and labor market, thus increasing efficiency, certainty, and security in an environment where information flow is critical for economic growth and job creation.
The spread of digital technologies can empower the poor with access to information, job opportunities, and services that improve their standard of living. AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain can enhance opportunities for data gathering and analysis for more targeted and effective poverty reduction strategies. Already, we have witnessed the transformational power of formal financial services through mobile phones, such as M-Pesa, reaching the underserved, including women, who are important drivers for sustainable poverty eradication. These financial services allow households to save in secure instruments to enlarge their asset base and escape cycles of poverty.
By 2030, Africa’s potential workforce will be among the world’s largest, and so, paired with the needed infrastructure and skills for innovation and technology use, the 4IR represents a massive opportunity for growth. Indeed, the 4IR is dramatically changing global systems of labor and production, requiring that job seekers cultivate the skills and capabilities necessary for adapting rapidly to the needs of African firms and automation more broadly. Already, Africa’s working population is becoming better educated and prepared to seize the opportunities provided by the 4IR: For example, the share of workers with at least a secondary education is set to increase from 36 percent in 2010 to 52 percent in 2030.