Africa and The New Normal – Post-COVID: A Technological Perspective

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Africa and The New Normal – Post-COVID: A Technological Perspective

If there ever was anything that could shake the entire human population of the planet, forcing us to take unusual and once-thought-impossible postures, it is a threat to our existence, especially the one we know so little about – the new normal.

We have ample evidence to this effect with respect to how the world has shifted significantly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. First, most nations were indifferent, then we thought the WHOs of the world will be our saviour, then we started seriously closing our businesses (after all, only the living can eat and live nicely), then the global pandemic set the world on an isolation frenzy, freezing relationships and entire societies.

Anything that can affect us that seriously has unprecedented potential for causing panic, and trust us, humans – panic is an exact description for the kind of response quite a number of us put up this season. What was initially thought to be a flu was eventually going to turn into a flame that will ‘burn normal’, and out of its ashes will rise (is rising) what most of us are calling ‘a new normal’.

It is a new world (hypothetically speaking), and I am going to explore the new face of technology briefly in our new-found socioeconomic and cultural order based on our Covid-19 experience. I suppose the most basic thing we have come to appreciate as humans in this season is this: ‘health is wealth’.

It is ironic that it took a new experience to help us truly appreciate the value of a maxim so old. Thankfully, Africa has not been affected (infection-wise) as severely as quite a number of geopolitical zones across the globe, even those considered more advanced.

However, the economic follow up to the lockdown is threatening to be a seriously overwhelming fallout in the coming months. One thing I was not pleased with on the African front of the Covid-19 fight was how our experience with similarly deadly diseases (thankfully again, not pandemics) Ebola and Lassa Fever did little to quicken and optimize our response to Covid-19.

This is quite unlike the Asian nations (such as Taiwan and ground zero – China) that were reported to have leveraged on their knowledge gleaned from dealing with SARS and MERS. Although Senegal seems to be doing well on the Coronavirus front in the sense that they actually developed a cheap and rapidly produced testing kit, leveraging on their experience with Dengue Fever; now that’s something I’d like to hear as Africa’s normal.

We also have Ghana as an example of making the most of the powers of technology by hiring Zipline drone services to ramp up the rate of testing. For the information of those who are nor familiar with Zipline, they are a medical drone company which erstwhile have been functional in Rwanda as a blood courier service. Rwanda, apart from being more technologically open in recent years, also has a hilly terrain which makes it difficult to traverse and deliver critical materials, which in their case is mostly blood needed for urgent medical procedures.

We have it as a record that Ghana is the first African country, and one of the first around the world to ease the lockdown, having used technology to cordon the virus’ spread. Now, in a world of dwindling economic opportunities, the headstart Ghana opening for business could mean all the difference. The same case can be made for Senegal.

The nation (Senegal) has had only 2 deaths, compared to Nigeria who’s Covid-19 associated deaths (according to the ‘official’ numbers) is hovering around hundreds. The results tell the difference as regards which nation will recover faster and claim more share in the limited opportunity space.

Obviously, the healthier nation will be the wealthier one as long as the effects of Covid-19 is being felt on the continental. Summarily, on this point wherein I have said a bit about medical technology, I believe Africa should take the lead. The best epidemiologists should be on this continent because, given our level of development, our population is still susceptible to disease outbreaks.

Our relatively underdeveloped medical systems are not exactly set in stone (yet), compared to the West where extensive medical infrastructures leave little room for manoeuvring to adopt new technologies, some might even call it late mover’s advantage.

Africa and The New Normal - Post Covid: A Technological Perspective

Africa and The New Normal – Post-COVID: A Technological Perspective

The reality, however, is that the leaders in medical innovation are off-continent (the rather ‘intriguing’ example of China that built a hospital complex in 10 days comes to mind). However, the vulnerability of our population is enough motivation (much more than other nations that have attained a measure of stability) to incorporate Industry 4.0 paradigms such as Telemedicine (where a doctor is nowhere in sight), autonomous package delivery (as Zipline presently does in Rwanda and recently did in Ghana), vaccine production technologies and the integration/mainstreaming of traditional medical knowledge (which Africa has more recent and proven experience in) with the more conventional approach adopted in hospitals.

Furthermore, I should like to point out how this season has brought indigenous technology to the limelight. The most popular devices of this period are ventilators and handwashing stands. Ventilators however are more expensive and their scarcity due to the unusually high demand sort of made their production a ‘community project’.

In Nigeria for example, I have seen so many models running on local parts and are just as functional as the imported versions. Almost everyone with a technical bent is taking a shot at building the cheapest and most functional design of the device. Ranging from the DHQ technology complex to universities, to technicians and tech hobbyists, everyone is coming up with new and amazing designs every other day.

In fact, in Jos, we had two engineers fix dud ventilators for free and their services have been engaged fully to fix the others, totalling about 40. This makes you ask where have all these ingenuity has been all this time. It is sad that it took a life-threatening situation to squeeze the smarts out of us!

Since the global bodies we usually run to are in need of aid themselves, even without motivation, folks are being amazingly productive. I guess it’s true then – necessity is indeed the mother of invention. And as a friend used to say – you won’t know how strong you are until being strong is all you have left. Thankfully, we are finally realizing how strong we are in technology; after all, our brains are all we have left.

There has also been a revolution of sorts in textile production. Since nose masks – the essential preventive material covering the main openings in the face to limit the chance of contracting the disease, have also been scarce and yes, rather expensive.

We have seen average people research the best fabric type and combination that is most effective against contracting the virus. You hardly see a typical surgical nose mask or the N95 type out there these days, except among medical practitioners. Other miscellaneous inventions include Tracking Apps, proximity sensing and warning devices, automatic handwashing contraptions, don’t-touch-your-face gizmos to name a few.

Once again, it is sad to see that it is taking something as traumatic as a pandemic to make us solve our own problems – by ourselves. The new normal for Africa in this regard should be along the lines of establishing critical infrastructure that encourages and rewards ingenuity.

Technology is the currency of the 21st century, therefore any country that refuses to develop its own technological capacity will be impoverished indeed. Now that we have seen how  ‘easy’ it is to solve our own problems on our own terms, we should by no means revert to our docile, servile non-participating idiosyncrasies with respect to indigenous technology.

Regular jobs are disappearing. This is another sad fact that accompanied the advent of the Grim Reaper in the guise of Covid-19. The economic downturn is a reality, and for how long we are going to maintain this trend is something almost no one is certain of.

Africa and The New Normal - Post-Covid: A Technological Perspective

Africa and The New Normal – Post-COVID: A Technological Perspective

In an already strained employment space, the extra weight thrown in by this pandemic is probably going to shatter the scale. The economic prospects are rather grim for African nations and if we do not play our cards right, we are going to come out worse, perhaps even a set back development-wise by nothing less than a decade.

The obvious solution here is that we begin to design a new job model for our workforce. Remember when I said about technology being the currency of the 21st century? That is going to be our way out of this. Our government has to seriously shed the bureaucratic weight we have accumulated for effective and rapid response to global economic changes.

What’s to say that we should not have corporate and civil service personnel working from home (either permanently or on several days of the week, depending on the nature of service provided), provided the government resolves the issue of strong, constant internet and solid, well-integrated web-based frameworks.

Apart from reducing employee expenses in terms of transportation and other associated costs, it will also help free up the roads for easier, faster access by logistic infrastructures traversing out roads daily. One only need be in a Lagos rush hour traffic to see how beneficial this corporate paradigm could be.

Nigeria could be the first nation to decongest her corporate and transport infrastructure by playing the singular card of web-integration and location-independent administration. The truth is that Nigerians are ready for this switch. Just last week, I was in a conversation with a business partner. He said that it is a verifiable fact that Nigerians are the most active nationality (second only to China) on the cryptocurrency exchange.

Our global infamy and notoriety as fraudulent people in the cyberspace (no thanks to the ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ ilk) is a potential that can also be positively harnessed, given proper planning and reorientation. In fact, I propose an Online Job Agency which provides training and guidelines on how to attract global opportunities available on remote job channels.

This is something India has been doing for years – capturing the global Information Technology servicing market by training an IT aware and highly competent population. Along these lines, citizens should also be exposed to globalized sources of income such as Foreign Exchange and Global Stocks, albeit in such a way that technology can be adopted as positive leverage for maximizing profit.

Conversely, the manufacturing strength of the continent should be seriously looked into. In a discussion with another friend, I came to realize that given the way the world feels about China right now, it will be no surprise that the ‘factory of the world’ (what China has become) will be given a wide berth by a number of technological outfits that has erstwhile produced with them.

In fact, the world is bracing for a significant shift in the West’s foreign policy with respect to China. One of the areas that will definitely be a highlight of this change is shifting the base of manufacturing economics.

Also in that discussion, we concluded that this will be an exciting opportunity for Africa if only our policymakers can begin to reshape out technology space to accommodate global manufacturing frameworks. I do not just speak of physical infrastructure but also breeding a highly competent population (something Lee Kwan Yew’s Singapore did to attract MNCs – Multinational Corporations).

You see, no one wants to have an uncomfortably dependent relationship with an entity it, at least, believes to be hostile. And ‘hostile’ is one of the many words that can be used to describe the Sino-Western relationship at this moment. Incidentally, China is also investing heavily in Africa.

So we have what is probably going to be a serious ‘wooing match’ on our hands. We can only make the best of this threesome by being technologically prepared. Technology, especially manufacture-enabling technologies could be our wild card in this regard.

Africa and The New Normal – Post-COVID: A Technological Perspective

However, on a rather sad note, we have seen the major cause of Nigeria’s economic downturn is the Oil hubris. Our overdependence on crude oil as a revenue mainstay in a world where no one is going anywhere – vehicles are not exactly running, and a significant number of oil-consuming production outfits are closed, has tanked our economy.

This brings to the fore what every right-thinking citizen has pointed to at least one time before – let’s get our lazy asses off the oil drum! Now that renewable energy sources are gaining traction and oil economics is heating up (no thanks to regional wars), it is becoming irresistibly clear to our government that something has to be done. The opportunity here is for Nigeria to fine-tune and deploy refinery technology locally and reorient itself to be a regional powerhouse of oil production and distribution.

The other day, I watched on YouTube how a high school pupil in Southern Nigeria built a machine that converts waste plastic products to crude oil. As a follow up to that, he built another device that converts water into electricity. According to him, one litre of water fed to the contraption can power the basic electronic appliances of a house for six straight hours – how cool is that!

If anything, Nigeria is not lacking in talent and ingenuity. However, we are severely handicapped when it comes to scaling and transforming ingenuity in technology into a force for socio-economic change on a major scale.

Next to information technology, energy is mankind’s priority in the 21st century – even IT runs on energy. We must look at the energy market and begin to see what has erstwhile been our anchor in a different light. We must leverage our resources today to create new ones that will be relevant tomorrow.

Nothing maintains the top spot for too long in our dynamic world. Today’s wealth should be an investment to ensure we do not live in tomorrow under duress. Moreover, we have also seen how countries have taken contact tracing seriously in order to preempt and limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus. I believe the technological edge used in this period can be leveraged upon to tackle insurgency.

As most countries have stated as regards the pandemic, we are at war, albeit, with an invisible enemy. If we are so intent on dealing with this threat to our lives and our way of life, how can we not be as bothered when it comes to dealing with a visible and much more localized enemy, namely insurgency? Politicking aside,

I believe how we have used information technology in this season through citizen awareness, phone apps, satellite technology and ingenuity can serve as a major boost in furthering our capacity in fighting insecurity. The new normal for Nigeria in this regard should be safety and security. With these in place, our faltering economy will not take long before it is back on the road to a rapid recovery.

In conclusion, I hope you and I see the task ahead of us. Every global reset such as the one with which we are confronted is an opportunity for every nation to reinvent itself. There has been sickness and death but then, there is also hope and room for improvement.

We must rise to the occasion as a continent, act and position ourselves so that the world will see that this is our finest moment yet. Posterity must not look at 2020 and say this was where the continent broke. We must in this time when the struggle is hardest leave a legacy that will serve as a reference, a landmark and turning point whence it will be said in history that we accelerated henceforth.

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Ikeoluwa Ogedengbe

1 comment

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