Re­flec­tions gath­ered at WEF-Africa 2017 ind­aba

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Jeff Radebe Jeff Radebe is the Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency: Plan­ning, Mon­i­tor­ing and Eval­u­a­tion.

THE AN­NUAL World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, Africa 2017 (WEF-Africa 2017) was held in May at the Inkosi Al­bert Luthuli In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, Dur­ban. By all ac­counts, WEF-Africa 2017 was a re­sound­ing and run­away suc­cess and we should pause and thank ev­ery­one in­volved: the gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, labour, academia – “Team South Africa”, for putting on their best dis­play of what “unity in ac­tion” truly means.

It re­minded me, in a pe­cu­liar way, of the World Cup in 2010. To­gether, we can do so much more, as a coun­try.

We sought to mar­ket South Africa, the sub re­gion – SADC and the rest of the con­ti­nent, in a clear, un­am­bigu­ous and co­her­ent lan­guage as in­vest­ment des­ti­na­tions that are ide­ally placed, bristling with op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­deed, that we are all open for busi­ness.

I dare suggest that it is this “unity of pur­pose” that we, as South Africans, must again cap­ti­vate. We re­quire this un­re­lent­ing spirit, un­yield­ing com­mit­ment and undy­ing pas­sion for our coun­try as we seek so­lu­tions to en­sure that we achieve in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth that will again lead to the cre­ation of much needed job op­por­tu­ni­ties, erad­i­cat­ing ram­pant inequal­ity and smash­ing low poverty lev­els. We have tri­umphed against all odds be­fore. This mo­ment of de­clin­ing growth, rat­ings down­grades and strug­gling gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth calls for us to do it all again. And so we must!

Im­por­tant is­sues

The WEF-Africa 2017 theme was “Achiev­ing In­clu­sive Growth through Re­spon­sive and Re­spon­si­ble Lead­er­ship”. The meet­ing dis­cussed im­por­tant is­sues re­lat­ing to ed­u­ca­tion, skills, em­ploy­ment, en­trepreneur­ship, en­ergy, in­fra­struc­ture and de­vel­op­ment fi­nance re­lated mat­ters. Also on the WEF-Africa 2017 agenda were con­ti­nen­tal in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment, com­bat­ing, adapt­ing to and build­ing re­silience against cli­mate change and sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion with a spe­cific fo­cus on Africa.

But, make no mis­take – a vast num­ber of meet­ings hap­pened away from the hub – the Inkosi Al­bert Luthuli In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre – in the var­i­ous foy­ers, restau­rants and cen­tres of the sur­round­ing ho­tels that ac­cen­tu­ate the al­lure and splen­dour that is Dur­ban, with its il­lus­tri­ous beach­front. It goes with­out say­ing that a par­tic­u­lar favourite was the Hil­ton Ho­tel, right next to the WEF Africa venue.

My par­tic­i­pa­tion at WEF-Africa 2017 in­cluded par­tic­i­pat­ing in ses­sions cov­er­ing:

Progress with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of South Africa’s lodestar, the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan (NDP); The Part­ner­ship against Cor­rup­tion Ini­tia­tive (PACI) – a global World Eco­nomic Ini­tia­tive; The World of Women, Youth and Work (WWYW) in re­la­tion to global chal­lenges; The Pres­i­den­tial In­fra­struc­ture Cham­pi­oning Ini­tia­tive (PICI); and The Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion (FIR) – Op­por­tu­ni­ties, risks and chal­lenges.

The NDP

The re­flec­tions here re­volved around re­port­ing progress with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the NDP. The main pri­or­i­ties of the plan are: the re­duc­tion of in­come inequal­ity (based on the Gini co­ef­fi­cient) from 0.69 to 0.60 points; the erad­i­ca­tion of poverty (us­ing a poverty line cal­cu­lated at R419 per per­son, in 2009 prices), and sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing un­em­ploy­ment. The plan out­lines a num­ber of mea­sures over the short-, medium- and long-term to achieve these goals.

The NDP con­firmed that South Africa was a youth­ful so­ci­ety. This can be a huge ad­van­tage for growth, but in­creased em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties are needed to be pro­vided to pre­vent it be­com­ing a draw­back. South Africa is also an ur­ban­is­ing so­ci­ety, with about 60 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas.

To max­imise this “de­mo­graphic div­i­dend”, the coun­try re­quires bet­ter health care (we are still very vul­ner­a­ble to in­fec­tious dis­eases, and those caused by poor nu­tri­tion), im­proved ed­u­ca­tion, eas­ier en­try into the labour mar­ket, and greater abil­ity for work­ers, or po­ten­tial work­ers, to move to where jobs are on of­fer (labour mo­bil­ity).

The NDP is di­vided into 15 chap­ters, each with very clear and spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions. They in­clude longer-term rec­om­men­da­tions about re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions, for­mu­lat­ing pol­icy to man­age cli­mate change, and wa­ter as a re­source. There are also spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions about trans­port, over­haul­ing the ru­ral econ­omy to boost agri­cul­tural jobs, and trans­form­ing cur­rent pat­terns of hu­man set­tle­ments, specif­i­cally to lo­cate poorer peo­ple closer to cities, to places of work, and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The PACI

In this ses­sion we agreed that cor­rup­tion is a bar­rier to eco­nomic and so­cial growth, not just in South Africa, but in much of Africa too. In many coun­tries, ro­bust le­gal frame­works for trans­parency in­clud­ing far-reach­ing laws, crim­i­nal, ad­min­is­tra­tive and au­dit regimes, and mech­a­nisms for pre­ven­tion, in­ves­ti­ga­tion and sanc­tion ex­ist. Yet, im­ple­men­ta­tion of laws are of­ten slow and im­punity re­mains rife.

Re­build­ing trust and in­tegrity in busi­ness and in­sti­tu­tions to cre­ate eco­nomic value will re­sult in more-ac­ces­si­ble mar­kets, im­proved se­cu­rity, low­ered risks for in­vestors and greater ease of do­ing busi­ness. The role of tech­nol­ogy in trans­ac­tion pro­cesses was iden­ti­fied as in­creas­ingly im­por­tant. We noted that in­te­grat­ing tech­nol­ogy in this cross-in­dus­try ef­fort to find so­lu­tions is crit­i­cal to suc­cess.

Build­ing on the in­ter­est from the PACI busi­ness lead­ers and pub­lic fig­ures in the Africa re­gion iden­ti­fied how pos­i­tive change can be fos­tered across re­gions and sec­tors to re­build trust and ad­dress cor­rup­tion.

The World of Ed­u­ca­tion

It was noted that only 3 mil­lion for­mal jobs are cre­ated an­nu­ally in Africa, de­spite mil­lions of young peo­ple and women en­ter­ing the work­force each year, most of whom are un­der­pre­pared.

The ques­tion was how gov­ern­ment and busi­ness lead­ers can counter this trend and foster skills for future jobs. Some of the di­men­sions ad­dressed were:

Ad­vanc­ing dig­i­tal flu­ency and other key skills; train­ing skilled and un­skilled work­ers and in­cen­tivis­ing pub­lic-pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tion.

It was agreed that in or­der to meet the chal­lenges and max­imise the op­por­tu­ni­ties posed, it was cru­cial that women play an equal role in shap­ing Africa’s future.

The mod­erni­sa­tion of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing sys­tems in Africa is a crit­i­cal pri­or­ity to en­sure the con­ti­nent’s rapidly grow­ing youth pop­u­la­tion ac­quires the skills that will help them suc­ceed in a con­stantly evolv­ing labour mar­ket.

The PICI

The African Union and the pan African stake­hold­ers adopted the PICI and the North-South Cor­ri­dor as a pi­lot for the Smart Cor­ri­dor con­cept.

As a strate­gic lever, Smart Cor­ri­dors have the po­ten­tial to open new mar­kets and stim­u­late eco­nomic growth through in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment and in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion with new tech­nol­ogy.

Con­cep­tu­ally, it is easy to ap­pre­ci­ate – the chal­lenge was to ac­cel­er­ate the re­spec­tive in­fra­struc­ture projects (road, rail, en­ergy, ports and hy­dro) from the stage of pack­ag­ing to im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Ad­e­quacy of in­fra­struc­ture net­works helps to de­ter­mine one coun­try’s suc­cess and an­other’s fail­ure in di­ver­si­fy­ing pro­duc­tion, ex­pand­ing trade, cop­ing with pop­u­la­tion growth and re­duc­ing poverty.

Build­ing qual­ity in­fra­struc­ture in Africa is not an op­tion, it is crit­i­cal if we wanted to see suc­cess along our journey to trans­form Africa at both the con­ti­nen­tal level but also at the re­gional and sub-re­gional level.

The FIR

This ses­sion, with­out a shadow of a doubt, was the most dis­rup­tive, im­pact­ful and dis­turb­ing of all the WEF-Africa 2017 ses­sions. It fol­lowed hard on the heels on my sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence in Davos, Switzer­land, in Jan­uary.

Let me start with the fact that en route to Davos, I re-read Klaus Sch­wab’s clas­sic The Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. For some in­ex­pli­ca­ble and quite pe­cu­liar rea­son, this time around I was com­pletely taken by the con­tent, force and power of the book.

The spec­tac­u­lar peek into an im­pend­ing grav­i­ta­tional shift of our col­lec­tive future left me ex­as­per­ated. It is a future that will most as­suredly have pro­found im­pacts on all of hu­man­ity, in­clud­ing on us, here down on the South­ern tip of Africa. It is a rel­a­tively short, but in­ci­sive read. But, some­thing shifted in me af­ter read­ing it one more time…

Sud­denly, ev­ery­thing I touched and turned to read, since the WEF-Africa 2017 res­onated with and am­pli­fied the core thrust of Sch­wab’s book – the Econ­o­mist, the Fi­nan­cial Times, For­eign Af­fairs, Time, For­tune and Newsweek – all have ar­ti­cles and re­ports that un­der­lined some of the pro­found changes that are ly­ing in wait. The new buzz­words were “ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence” (AI), “the in­ter­net of things”, “Blockchain”, “big data”, “3D print­ing”, “ro­bot­ics”… and many more.

It dawned on me, again, at WEF-Africa 2017, that the FIR will trans­form so­ci­eties and em­power in­di­vid­u­als, com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments in ways that were un­think­able merely a short few years ago. And, if truth must be told, this “rev­o­lu­tion” has al­ready taken on a life of its own.

In the dis­cus­sions, we touched on the mean­ing of ag­ile gov­er­nance and asked what norms, rules and stan­dards should gov­ern emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies? Who gets to de­cide? Who has power and le­git­i­macy?

And then, think­ing closer to home, how can the op­por­tu­ni­ties as­so­ci­ated with the FIR be chan­nelled to tackle the chal­lenges of poverty, inequal­ity and un­em­ploy­ment? There are no easy an­swers, for sure. This is one idea that I will ask the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion to ex­plore and ad­dress.

Left out

What I do know is this: we must en­sure that in the de­vel­op­ing world we, as Africa, are not left be­hind again. As has of­ten been the case with ev­ery rev­o­lu­tion be­fore, the de­vel­op­ing world is not just a late comer, it is of­ten left be­hind and left out.

The In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tions that came be­fore was about, first, the in­tro­duc­tion of me­chan­i­cal pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties with the help of wa­ter and steam power; the sec­ond was the in­tro­duc­tion of divi­sion of labour and mass pro­duc­tion with the help of elec­tri­cal en­ergy and the third was about the use of elec­tronic and IT sys­tems that fur­ther au­to­mate pro­duc­tion.

In this the fourth, we are al­ready in a new dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion era.

Tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions are al­ready char­ac­terised by a fu­sion of tech­nolo­gies that blur the lines be­tween the phys­i­cal, dig­i­tal, bi­o­log­i­cal and neuro-tech­no­log­i­cal spheres. In­ter­net com­pa­nies have be­come the global jug­ger­nauts, usurp­ing mar­ket share in ev­ery ge­og­ra­phy they en­ter, with­out hav­ing any sig­nif­i­cant tan­gi­ble as­sets on their bal­ance sheets. And we need to act, and act very quickly.

Rapid de­vel­op­ment in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, the in­ter­net of things and big data will see the world move closer to a time in which there will not be many jobs or op­er­a­tional func­tions that can­not be au­to­mated. This presents a se­ri­ous chal­lenge for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, where a sig­nif­i­cant amount of jobs still re­quire man­ual labour.

Tech­nol­ogy can be a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity that we need to lever­age, but it is also a huge threat. We still have jobs in South Africa and Africa that no longer ex­ist in other parts of the world. It would ap­pear that we are not ready for this rev­o­lu­tion, be­cause ap­prox­i­mately 600 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing on the con­ti­nent still do not have ac­cess to elec­tric­ity!

It is es­ti­mated that some 65 per­cent of chil­dren en­ter­ing pri­mary schools to­day will likely work in roles that do not yet ex­ist. Thus, depend­ing on the col­lec­tive choices we make – as con­sumers, as com­mu­ni­ties, as busi­ness, gov­ern­ment, labour and civil so­ci­ety lead­ers – these tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs could give us the plat­form and power to shift a gear and move into a world that is even more pros­per­ous.

Left be­hind, we could again end up in a world where our eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sys­tems are more ar­chaic, more un­equal and more con­flicted. The truth that jumped out at me was this: the rapid pace of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion and adop­tion is cre­at­ing a global so­ci­ety in­creas­ingly di­vided along an axis of ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties

In­ter­net ac­cess is the lifeblood of en­trepreneurs and un­leash­ing the re­lated op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth, de­vel­op­ment and progress are all as­pects that are in­ex­tri­ca­bly in­ter­twined. How deep is our aware­ness that we are again at risk of be­ing left be­hind? We should not leave this to chance. The FIR is piv­oted on the no­tion that peo­ple with ex­per­tise be­ing in the right place at the right time, equipped with enough tools, knowl­edge and sys­tems to know what they’re look­ing at.

One of the is­sues we all should be se­ri­ously con­cerned about is the dan­ger­ous ris­ing level of inequal­ity. In many de­vel­oped coun­tries, me­dian in­comes have stag­nated or fallen and many peo­ple feel that life will be worse – not only for them­selves, but also for their chil­dren too. This is un­par­al­leled fear. Then too, there are mil­lions of peo­ple around the world that lack not just eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity but a sense of hope and mean­ing in their lives.

We need to take a new, re­freshed and far-sighted sys­temic ap­proach to avoid the pop­u­lar back­lash that al­ready dom­i­nates most of the emerg­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions and choices.

At WEF-Africa 2017 the penny dropped – we must know that these de­vel­op­ments hold great prom­ise, but they also raise le­git­i­mate ques­tions. The global econ­omy may have en­tered the era of the “new nor­mal”, but we are fac­ing too the “new and great un­known”.

Map­ping the as yet un­charted ter­ri­to­ries of this “new and great un­known” will re­quire gov­ern­ments and in­dus­try to work to­gether to solve the prob­lems of the day, the future and mount this apoc­a­lyp­tic “un­known”. We will sim­ply have to ad­dress what­ever new chal­lenges the global econ­omy will churn out.

Con­clu­sion

No, South Africa is not on the precipice of a “Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion” which will fun­da­men­tally dis­rupt and trans­form the way we work – the future is here al­ready… I felt it in Davos and again in Dur­ban!

There will be some, of course, who will ar­gue that gov­ern­ments, and in par­tic­u­lar pub­lic of­fi­cials, are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant in a dig­i­tal world, and even more ir­rel­e­vant in the com­plex en­vi­ron­ment of the In­ter­net-en­abled busi­ness mod­els.

As pol­icy mak­ers we are re­quired to in­ter­vene to tackle the widen­ing inequal­ity from the in­tro­duc­tion of new tech­nol­ogy as the rich­est stand to gain more than the poorer sec­tions of so­ci­ety.

Stake­hold­ers as yet are di­vi­sive how it will un­fold, but one thing is clear: the re­sponse to it must be in­te­grated and com­pre­hen­sive.

Lead­er­ship re­quires recog­nis­ing that dis­con­tent is in­creas­ing in the seg­ments of so­ci­ety that are not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in­clu­sive eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and so­cial progress. Life will only be­come more un­cer­tain for us with the on­set of the FIR.

We are now re­quired to ev­i­dence a deeper com­mit­ment to in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment and eq­ui­table growth. It is about be­ing re­spon­sive, and re­spon­si­ble… no more no less…

Thus we should also seek proac­tive ways to re­spond to the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by the FIR. We should do so in a way that lends it­self to our na­tional pri­or­i­ties by pro­vid­ing more ag­ile re­sponses and ob­tain bet­ter out­comes to the triple chal­lenges of poverty, un­der­de­vel­op­ment and un­em­ploy­ment.

The pro­found changes brought about by the FIR will also re­quire that we look at in­no­va­tion very dif­fer­ently. We should in­vest in un­rav­el­ling the so­lu­tions to some of our most press­ing de­vel­op­men­tal chal­lenges.

How hard we drive, sup­port and un­leash in­no­va­tion will be cru­cial to whether we are able to cap­ture the “fruits” and ben­e­fits of the FIR to ef­fect the trans­for­ma­tion of our econ­omy, man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses and global sup­ply chains, for the greater good.

PHOTO: ELMOND JIYANE

Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency Jeff Radebe leav­ing some of the WEF ses­sions in Davos, Switzer­land, in this file photo. South Africa needs a deeper com­mit­ment to in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment and so­cial progress, main­tains the min­is­ter.

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