Conference sneak preview

‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’: Africa’s Opportunity or a Catastrophe in Waiting?

The world is heading towards a ‘fourth industrial revolution, according to technology experts. But is this good or bad news for Africans? Does it signify the approach of a new age of opportunity, in which Africa will leapfrog its competitors, or is it more likely to be a disaster in which jobs are lost, traditional industries are destroyed and Africa enters a new age of exploitation by western companies in control of frightening new technologies?

Experts from Europe and Africa will discuss the implications of a fourth industrial revolution, in which a fusion of technologies leads to a blurring of the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres, at a debate at eLearning Africa in Kigali, Rwanda on 28 September 2018.

Opening speakers in the debate will be Dr Bitange Ndemo of the University of Nairobi, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications in Kenya; Donald Clark, academic, commentator and edTech entrepreneur; Maximilian Bankole Jarrett, broadcaster, entrepreneur and former Director of Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel; and Clarisse Iribagiza, CEO of the Rwandan company, DMM.HeHe. They will debate the motion that “This House believes Africa has nothing to fear from a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and should seize the opportunity it represents.”

The debate will be chaired by former UK parliamentarian, Dr Harold Elletson, a senior fellow of the Institute for Statecraft. He said today:

“The prospect of technology creating a fourth industrial revolution is a big issue for workers, citizens, businesses and governments throughout the world. It has potentially enormous implications for economic growth, employment and the way we lead our lives. Will it be good for Africa? It’s still not clear. There’s certainly a big opportunity there but there are also great dangers. One thing is certain, though: we need to think about it and plan for it.

“The eLearning Africa debate will get people thinking. Our speakers, who are all very eloquent and experienced, will argue the toss. Maximilian Bankole Jarrett and Donald Clark are both very controversial. They won’t pull their punches. And Bitange Ndemo is a cunning fox, who is a master of the parliamentary style of debate. It should be very lively, informative and entertaining.”

The eLearning Africa debate uses a parliamentary format, in which members of the audience (the House) have the chance to express their views after the main speakers. A vote will be taken at the end of proceedings.


Do not miss the opportunity to be part of this debate, register NOW for eLearning Africa 2018 – 13th International Conference & Exhibition on ICT for Education, Training and Skills Development, September 26 – 28, 2018 @Kigali Convention Centre, Kigali, Rwanda



  1. In contemplating a fourth industrial revolution, conference attendees might pause for a moment and contemplate where we have been. 1903, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright brothers flew the first heavier-than-air aircraft for twelve seconds and 120 feet. Less than seven decades later astronauts flew to the moon, landed on its surface, and returned safely to Earth in just over one week.

    Was this the only such remarkable change? No, for there were scores of similarly rapid and unfolding changes also taking place in television, radio, telecommunications, automobiles, DNA technologies, computers, medicine, molecular genetics, automation, etc., etc., etc. over spans of a few decades or a single human lifetime. Given humankind’s sudden historical changes sampled above, what radical and startling changes may already be beginning to unfold right now? (Hint: Think research into life-extension.) (And you know that some future Nobel Laureates are already at work on such topics right now.)

    Search longevity research and aging, etc. beginning with early stages (1993) and articles, for example, by Kenyon (2005), Sinclair and Guarente, 2006, Cohen, 2004, and Asencio, et al., 2003. Kenyon’s review article (ibid) cites six-fold life-extensions that have ALREADY been achieved in Caenorhabditis, noting that in human terms, an equivalent such extension would result in healthy, active 500-year-olds. (This is not, of course, a prediction – but given the Wright brothers in 1903 to moon landings less than seven decades later, this is a sector of research that may show surprising or unexpected advances between now and mid-century.)

    In humans this century, even lesser life-extensions could utterly demolish current demographic projections that imagine or assume lower fertility, but do not imagine sudden and even greater declines in mortality. Instead of a hoped-for stabilization of humankind’s worldwide population, unexpected advances like those above could see our numbers exploding at completely obliterating rates. (Just so we think about it, if a six-fold life-extension were achieved in humans (as has ALREADY been achieved in laboratory organisms) would necessitate worldwide human fertility rates to fall to just four-tenths of a child per woman – per century.)

    Another thought along these lines: If an equivalent six-fold life extension (e.g., 500 years) had been achieved in humans back in the year 1600, a child who had been born that year, who would have been alive to witness the trial of Galileo before the court of the Inquisition, could still be alive today with many more years of healthy life-expectancy still ahead. So, as your discussion title suggests, An opportunity, or a catastrophe in waiting?

    Given that Earth’s razor-thin surface films of atmosphere, oceans, soils, and seas both house – and comprise – the ONLY planetary life-support machinery so far known to exist anywhere in the universe, our worldwide exploding billions constitute a planetary trainwreck – the demographic equivalent of a collision trajectory with a Near-Earth Asteroid.

  2. For your discussions, include “population doubling times” and their implications for jobs, health care, schools, government services, infrastructure, food, etc. Why important? (1) Suppose that real-world nation XYZ has a population that is growing larger and larger by 2.5% increase in population per year (some nations in attendance at conference have exactly that statistic; some others are currently growing by 3.4% population increase per year).

    (2) Use following quick math (Bartlett’s rule of 70) to calculate how long it will take for those populations to DOUBLE in size: Divide the number 70 by the % increase in population per year. Thus nation XYZ above 70 divided by 2.5% = 26 years. In other words, at that rate of population growth, its population will double in 26 years. Does it have enough jobs, schools, health care, government services, infrastructure, NOW?

    Hint: It is going to need TONS of MONEY (from somewhere)(and someone else is supposed to donate this, right?) and effort to DOUBLE its entire infrastructure, and jobs, and schools, and health care, and services, AND EVERYTHING ELSE in just 26 years. (And that won’t be to make things better, but to just maintain current conditions which may already be problematic.)

    Another nearby country WYX has an annual population growth rate of 3.4% per year, so that 70 divided by 3.4 equals a doubling time of 20 years and a quadrupling time of 40 years. (If its population is poor now, not enough jobs, living in poverty, instability, etc., where will its current course take it?)

    Now compare the two real-world nations above with the demographics of a developed nation – Spain. At its current rate of population growth, Spain will have to come up with the money to approximately double its roads, schools, electrical systems, jobs, housing, health care, government services, etc., etc., etc. in about 7,000 years. Which pathway is more do-able and which is an invitation for more problems adding to the problems that already exist? (Lastly, imagine a couple who decide to have a smaller family. If they decide to have only two children for example, it might be easier to afford sending one or both them to college.)

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