Are SMART technologies clever enough for Africa’s challenges?

Africa is a continent of contrast; full of incredible potential on the one hand, and myriad challenges on the other. To start with, Africa is the world’s richest continent in terms of natural resources.

But then, most African countries are facing numerous obstacles including poor governance and undesirable leadership resulting from flawed electoral processes. Politically motivated development agendas at the expense  of  national interests continue to threaten progress and prosperity. Corruption has endemically permeated many aspects of life affecting access to medical care, education, employment, and escalating to grand scale misuse of public resource. The  result is compromised quality of services and infrastructure, massive economic inequalities between citizens, poor living conditions, rising unemployment especially among the youth, and growing insecurity. Meanwhile, various factors, among them climate change, continue to affect agriculture, intensifying food insecurity and famine.

What’s so SMART about SMART technologies?

Globally, the term SMART technologies is attributed to almost every aspect of life:  smart homes, smart electricity, smart environment, smart automobiles, smart cities; the list goes on to include wearable technologies, big data and so on. But how realistic is it to expect smart technologies to play a role transformation in Africa, given the long list of woes discussed above regarding Africa? In other words, can SMART technologies solve Africa’s problems?

Emmanuel Effah

Yes, because they can lead to a digital economy, where most activities will use digitized information and knowledge, allowing its collection, storage, analysis, and sharing. In turn, this will transform social interactions, hopefully impacting on all aspects of society, influencing interactions and bringing about much needed changes across the continent as follows: 

  • Improve governance through automated processes that are foolproof of human interruptions. For instance, SMART-based government procurement system or goods clearing system will operate autonomously and efficiently. This will reduce delays and corrupt practices.
  • Reduce corruption and improve delivery of essential services such as healthcare, security, reliable power supply, education, banking, communication and development projects.

Smart technologies can also increase employment opportunities, especially for the youth, if they are equipped with the right skills to develop enterprises around a digitized economy. To achieve this goal, the continent’s education will have to evolve beyond provision of fundamental skills, to pay attention to SMART-Tech training, ICT entrepreneurial/socio-emotional skills required to for entrepreneurships.

Meanwhile, advances in agriculture, amid climate change, are possible through Smart technologies, for example, irrigation systems that are able to use water requirement data so that the right amount of water is applied to the crops at the right time. Such as system has been piloted in the Volta Region, Ghana, to ensure all-year round vegetable production.

The fifth PASET forum stressed that Africa cannot achieve sustainable development without integration of smart technologies into every fabric of the African economy. Comparisions were made between developed economies and developing economies.

To efficiently exploit the total merits of smart technologies, Africa must invest more in building ICT infrastructural capacities, integrating ICT skills in both formal and informal skills development and developing the right policies for their incorporation and use in national development. As a result, people will develop the tendency to think smart and become innovative.

Towards this goal, I propose the following SMART Technology4Development Framework, which I have developed from the commonalities of advanced countries with digitized economies. The figure may be summarized as follows: For a country to benefit from smart technologies solutions, it must invest in the development of  infrastructural and skills capacities in addition to the fundamental kills development.


Figure 1: SMART Technology4Development Framework (Proposed)