Although still in its infancy, with under60,000 imports a year, the robotics industry in Africa is developing rapidly.
In some parts of the continent, robots are mining, controlling traffic and even fighting deadly diseases.
Five years ago, The African Robotics Network launched a ’10 dollar robot’ challenge to encourage students to produce their own robots. There are also over 20 African organizations encouraging participation in robotics.
While this might offer the continent more affordable production costs, it has far-reaching consequences for Africa’s 1.2 billion people.
‘Half of Africa’s jobs at risk’
A policy brief by the United Nations conference on trade and development reveals that robots will take away two-thirds of jobs in developing countries.
“The increased use of robots in developed countries risks eroding the traditional labor cost advantage of developing countries,” it states.
A 2016 study which stems from World Bank research, states that more than half of jobs in parts of Africa are at risk of automation with Ethiopia leading the highest proportion globally at 85%.
This rapid reduction of industrial activity is what economist Dani Rodrik refers to as “premature”, in his report stating that the window for industrialization opportunities is closing much faster.
The rise of robots in Africa
With Northern and Sub-Saharan African unemployment rates still at 29.3% and 10.8%respectively, the continent might not be maximizing its labor force to do the jobs currently being taken over by robots.
In Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, robots are already a part of everyday life. Eight foot tall, solar-powered ‘robocops’ have been brought in to direct traffic. These robots have eliminated the need for human traffic wardens as they can detect pedestrians and are designed to withstand all weather conditions.
In Tanzania and Uganda, drones with sensors have replaced the need for some farmers because of their ability to detect stress in plants, ten days before humans can.
In South Africa, robots in the gold mining industry are a welcome solution to the associated risk involved in these jobs. Robots now replace humans to assess the depth of some of the country’s gold mines.
The situation in Botswana closely mirrors that of South Africa. Robots are now employed to mine diamonds at depths that are unsafe for humans.
In the wake of the 2014 Ebola crisis, Liberia took full advantage of the 5×5 foot robot, TRU-D to beat the deadly virus. TRU-D had the ability to disinfect rooms where Ebola patients were treated, a feat too risky for humans.
Rwanda, a country where there is one doctor to every 16,046 people, plans to be the world’s first drone port to deliver medical and emergency supplies to its rural areas.
It is hard to predict the impact of the increase in robots on the continent, while it could maximize productivity on a much larger scale, it may also take away jobs; as stated in a brief from a United Nations conference on trade and development states: “Disruptive technologies always bring a mix of benefits and risks.”