IT Matters More Than You Think: Africans & Remote Work

If you didn’t know before, now you know. Information technology (IT) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution aren’t just buzzwords; they’re a necessary reality in a world growing more unpredictable.

The latest pandemic, shut down of global travel, and mandatory quarantines in most countries are forcing us to learn how to make remote work happen. It’s no longer a luxury but a necessity to protect us from what’s been decided as the greater evil – the spread of the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, we’ve been operating as if it is a luxury for too long. Corporations aren’t charities, so I don’t blame them for not moving faster to make strong, reliable internet and mobile service accessible to every person, regardless of their ability to pay. But now we’re in a situation where, due to the way capitalism works, the divide that kept billions of Africans far away from wealth generation is just getting wider and wider.

Based on the last report given by PwC, Africa is nowhere near the list of top performers making valuable use of mobile and internet technology to make data-driven economic decisions. 

And unlike the “quick fix” we take for granted in places like the U.S., remote work is less accessible even to most wealthy Africans since investments in strong infrastructure has been deprioritized. Africans have greater access to mobile phones than they do indoor plumbing, and yet the IT infrastructure isn’t reliable enough to make business go on as usual as offices are forced to close for public safety concerns.

The Pew Research Center not only reports that “Sub-Saharan Africa has a lower level of internet use than any other geographic region” (highest was 59% use in South Africa, compared to 89% of Americans) but that even when smartphones are available, “social and entertainment activities are much more common than other uses of mobile phones, such as looking up information.”

The problem hits across access and attitudes – Africans haven’t prepared themselves for a reality where employers and employees develop a culture of productivity that doesn’t require micromanagement or physical interactions, or a culture that revolves around proficiency in using digital tools beyond sending texts and emails.

IT matters are more than just sounding tech-savvy, innovative and trendy. In the words of MTN Senior Enterprise Business Manager, Awwal Abdullahi, the “Internet has become more or less like food now.”

So if we truly want to see Africa revolutionize, and we truly care about eradicating the unnecessary and embarrassing socioeconomic gaps that stubbornly persist in the richest continent in the world (in terms of resources), IT availability has to be taken more seriously as a human rights issue.

I’m seeing many influencers and business websites advising us to use this forced time at home productively – learn a new skill, work on that business plan, and catch up on all those professional and personal goals we keep procrastinating on. 

I give the same advice to our African governments: now that things are slowing down, maybe there’s more time in your schedules to develop a more robust plan to get in line as the future of work continues to go online.

What do you think?

I’m thinking of starting a business of my own that solves this problem.

I feel the same way — tired of lower standards that keep Africans at risk economically.

I don’t think you’re seeing the full picture, and I have a different point of view.

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