The fourth industrial revolution is transforming the world of work at an unprecedented pace. It is fuelled by rapid advances in artificial intelligence which blurs the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. Every industry and every aspect of life will be disrupted by artificial intelligence to the extent that by 2050 the world will be unrecognisable.

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There have been many industrial revolutions, and exponential changes have taken place in human history. The first industrial revolution used water and steam to mechanise mass production. The second industrial revolution used electric power to increase production while the third used information and communications technology to automate production. In the 20th century, the third revolution was characterised by much deeper systemic and seismic changes than any other in history as a result of technological advances. Tracing developments through a different timeline points to the explosion of the Internet between 1995 and 2007 fuelled by the introduction of new disruptive products, from Microsoft, Google and Facebook, which changed the world in unimaginable ways (Urban, 2015).


By 2000, the rate of progress was estimated as five times faster than the average rate of progress in the 20th century (ibid). According to Urban (2015), the period between 2000 to 2014 registered accelerated, disruptive and transformative changes. Urban (ibid) further notes that by 2030, changes are estimated to leap as higher as 1 000 times observed in the 20th century. These changes are fuelled by advances in computing, digital and technological spaces the world over. Africa, if it uses the opportunities well, is also positioned to benefit from the digital dividend of these changes via a new revolution known as the fourth industrial revolution.

The potential benefits of this new revolution lie in the extent to which the continent could take advantage of its youth dividend as well as build on the uptake of technology advances in sectors where other parts of the world are seemingly lacking behind. Examples include the finance sector and mobile phone penetration as demonstrated by mobile money, technology advances in the agriculture and health sectors. Notable developments include changes in farming technology wherein improvements in cloud computing, connectivity, open-source software, and other digital tools have made it possible for entrepreneurs to deliver technology to farmers at affordable prices (Abardazzou, 2017). Examples of these include aerial images that deliver information on crops that are in distress and agro-weather information delivered to farmers in a timely manner (ibid).

In Nigeria, tech entrepreneurs have developed technology that measures soil, temperature and, nutrients and vegetation health to help farmers determine the amount of fertiliser required (Ekekwe, 2017). ICTs are also used to deliver market information and data to farmers, which address information asymmetry between farmers and traders enabling farmers to negotiate better prices for their produce. In Rwanda, drones are used to deliver medical treatment, for example, blood transfusions to remote areas (Abardazzou, 2017). With these developments and predictions, questions have been asked about the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on Africa.

Will Africa seize the opportunities? What is the future of work and most importantly what is the future of women’s work? What does it all mean for the rights of women in Africa and their own agency?


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