DE­BATE / The new tech era: job killer or job cre­ator?

The Africa Report asks what ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy will mean for the con­ti­nent’s young people and its eco­nomic growth tra­jec­tory

The Africa Report - - EDITORIAL - By NI­CHOLAS NORBROOK in Abid­jan

The Africa Report asks what ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy will mean for the con­ti­nent’s young people and its eco­nomic growth tra­jec­tory

IIt is the first of May, in­ter­na­tional day of work­ers, at the Athlone Sta­dium in Cape Town. Paul Mashatile, dressed in the trade­mark yel­low and green T-shirt of the rul­ing African National Congress (ANC), is speak­ing to a packed au­di­ence of trade union­ists dressed in red. “There are many of our people look­ing for jobs, many young people who have fin­ished col­lege and univer­sity look­ing for jobs,” says Mashatile, trea­surer gen­eral of the ANC. “We want growth that is ac­com­pa­nied by mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment.”

Mashatile is not ex­ag­ger­at­ing about the youth unem­ploy­ment cri­sis. One in every two young South Africans lacks a job. The large num­ber of un­em­ployed youth in Africa is a prob­lem that is slowly com­ing into view as one of the biggest chal­lenges of the 21st cen­tury.

“It is a recipe for so­cial un­rest,” said Su­danese tele­coms bil­lion­aire and gov­er­nance en­thu­si­ast Mo Ibrahim, speak­ing at our The Africa Report De­bates on 6 April in Abid­jan. The theme was ‘The new tech revo­lu­tion – job cre­ator or job killer?’ Ibrahim added: “These guys will go and join Boko Haram. They go to the Mediter­ranean try­ing to cross into Europe. That’s what is go­ing to hap­pen.”

And while many fete the eco­nomic progress of the con­ti­nent in re­cent decades, it has not

nec­es­sar­ily helped employ younger gen­er­a­tions. “We have had growth, yes – 8, 9, 10% – but we have no jobs. It is job­less growth,” added Zyad Limam, ed­i­tor of Afrique Mag­a­zine, point­ing to Africa’s reliance on ex­port­ing raw com­modi­ties. A re­cent report from the African Devel­op­ment Bank (AFDB) backs him up: “Be­tween 2000 and 2008, em­ploy­ment grew at an an­nual av­er­age of 2.8%, roughly half the rate of eco­nomic growth.”

Source of in­equal­ity

For Ibrahim, the em­ploy­ment cri­sis cre­ates a sense of ur­gency, but the grow­ing role of tech­nol­ogy is also be­ing ques­tioned. “The income of the vast ma­jor­ity of people has stag­nated over the past 10 years. And people ask why. […] Many people ac­cuse tech­nol­ogy of be­ing a source of this in­equal­ity,” ar­gued Ibrahim.

CHIOMA AGWUEGBO Founder of Tech­her ‘We taught women to code and they did noth­ing with it be­cause tech­nolog y that would be use­ful is tech­nolog y that is ap­plied to a prob­lem.’ ZYAD LIMAM Ed­i­tor of Afrique Mag­a­zine ‘We do ed­u­ca­tion, even in the rich world, the same way as we did it in the 19th cen­tury. If we did medicine the same way […]we would all be dead by now.’

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