African Leadership University

Data Science: Africa’s return ticket to the future

Data Science: Africa’s return ticket to the future

During the last few years, the Africa rising narrative, propagating exponential growth and a bright future, has fueled innovation and economic growth in many countries. From developing the young to investing in resources and infrastructure, leaders across the continent have devoted their efforts towards powering Africa’s prosperity and ensuring the continent is not left behind as the rest of the world progresses. 

However, while various countries have indeed made progress towards this exponential growth through embracing innovation and technological advancements, experts argue that a large part of Africa’s economic growth remains unlocked. In an article published on CNBC, Zandre Campos, CEO of ABO Capital states that “data is the key to unlocking the future potential of Africa”. Data, which is soon becoming the world’s most valuable resource, has revolutionized how we think and approach the world. For many companies, data has enabled them to navigate their way between what the future may look like and therefore, make better business decisions today. 

In Africa, the continent is privy to extensive amounts of data not just from our rapidly rising population but also from growing economies and middle-class societies. In fact, in an increasingly hyper-connected world and especially with the rise of the internet of things, experts project that over 40 zettabytes will exist by 2020. Unfortunately, despite this extensive amount of data being available, many nations and companies on the continent lack the resources, knowledge and expertise needed to mine this data and further translate it into action. Many industries generating large amounts of data still utilize traditional methods of mining and understanding data, consequently costing them on time and resources. Yet, as the future of work shifts into a more digitally-driven society, efficiency in the way we work and our success will eventually become dependent on making fast data-driven decisions. Therefore, the question that many African leaders are now asking is, how can we equip the continent to capitalize on this growing data goldmine and be better prepared to walk into the future with strong present foundations? 

One of the major answers towards this question has come through the form of educating and training young Africans to digitally understand and utilize data. In 2018, ALU launched the Africa Industrial Internet Program (AIIP) as a way of addressing this demand for a digital-savvy workforce in an increasingly data-ridden era. As the first of its kind in the continent, the one-year program developed in partnership with General Electric (GE) aims to equip young Africans with the skills needed to tackle the fourth industrial revolution. During the program, participants from across various African countries and companies are taken through rigorous training, enabling them to build applications for the industrial internet. These applications enable machine-to-machine communication, resulting in systems that can collect, analyze, and deliver data in real-time. 

While the program has definitely increased the supply of digitally versed workers, its true value has been highlighted by the program’s emphasis on developing technical leaders who will lead Africa’s transformation.  For a long time, a lot of Africa’s challenges and issues have been addressed by foreign institutions who despite their global expertise have failed to deploy localized solutions. However, as GE Africa President and CEO, Farid Fezoua argues, it is important that programs such as the AIIP consciously “develop the next generation of leaders that will drive solutions made in Africa for Africa in this transformative digital age.” Indeed, as AIIP 2019 alumnus Tobe Asem from Nigeria remarks, the program has been an “eye-opening” experience highlighting the fact that a “lot of work is being done in Africa” in tech-savvy spaces such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.  

The work is not over for Africa. From governments, right down to individuals, we need to positively embrace the influence and impact that data could have on our economy and even daily life. But most importantly, we need to equip our workforce to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution through becoming more digitally-savvy and data-centric. Understanding data does not just bring incremental value to large companies but it significantly transforms decision making for all including small-businesses, governments and society. Together, we will not just predict Africa’s future, but we will begin planning and driving for our continent’s exponential growth.

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