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The 4th Industrial Revolution in Namibia: Prospects and Challenge

By:Josef Kefas Sheehama
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has the potential to transform Namibia’s economy, increase its productivity and enhance its global trade.
In doing so, it would dramatically improve the wellbeing of Namibian citizens. Therefore, we cannot talk about economic transformation if we are not technologically literate.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of the National Commission of Research Science and Technology (NCRST), Professor Anicia Peters, digital literacy in Namibia remains a concern amidst growing career opportunities in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) The Future of Jobs Report 2023, by 2027 69 million new jobs will be created because of AI, while 83 million jobs will be eliminated.
AI machine learning specialists, sustainability specialists, business intelligence analysts and information security specialists are forecasted to be amongst the fastest-growing jobs, while the largest absolute growth is expected in education, agriculture, and digital commerce.
The former President of the United States of America recognised the importance of literacy and the opportunity it provides, not only to individuals, but the whole community and the entire nation at large.
Currently, about 60% of the active population in Namibia is excluded or not participating in productive economic activities. One of the major causes of this huge significant percentage is illiteracy.
A report by the National Planning Commission revealed that 80% of the tertiary-educated individuals in Namibia are employed, compared to 42% of secondary educated and only 27% of those without education at all or only primary school are employed. I believe we have a moral obligation to increase the power and presence of technology in our communities.
The Namibian 4IR should be a national roadmap for real industrialisation. It should be a living vision, for implementation. This will create jobs, generate wealth, diversify our economy, substitute imports, boost exports, and broaden our tax base.
For Namibia to catch up with the world, it must adopt national strategies for education and skills development, focusing not only on youth but also on adult workers, dropouts, informal-economy workers, and those from economically and socially disadvantaged groups.
Namibian employers often cite inadequately prepared workers as a major constraint on their businesses’ growth. Similarly, research finds that close to half of employed Namibian youth consider their skills to be mismatched to their jobs, and that two-thirds are either over or under-educated, leading to depressed wages and job satisfaction.
Only by tackling these skill and education mismatches can Namibia build an adaptable and flexible workforce that is ready for the 4IR. Doing so will require a new educational philosophy that prizes soft skills while investing in basic and digital infrastructure.
To reduce dropout rates, attendance incentives and access to schools in remote areas must be enhanced, and primary school, at a minimum, should be made mandatory.
By ensuring more demand-driven education, Namibia can reduce persistent labour-market mismatches and make education both more attractive to students and more relevant for employers.
Hence, one exciting option is for Namibia to use new dynamic information systems to track current and future labour-market needs in the economy, making it easier for youth to learn about job openings, apply for jobs, and meet their skill requirements.
Therefore, the importance of skills development for Namibia’s youth cannot be overlooked. It represents one of the key drivers of innovation. To benefit from that relationship, the Namibian workforce must start preparing today for tomorrow’s jobs.
Moreover, advances mean we are now living in a world where more people have access to a mobile phone than basic sanitation. This creates many new business opportunities. Yet at the same time, it poses a serious threat to companies that fail to adapt.
The 4IR is disrupting and reshaping existing businesses, redefining the high street, and irreversibly changing the way business across all industries is conducted.
Today’s Namibian sectors are facing an unprecedented change, wherein various new players are entering the market and disrupting the traditional modes of operation. This disruption not only opens doors for completely different business opportunities but also poses challenges to the existing set up of businesses.
These industries are characterised by excessive regulations in Namibia, indicating the need for negative regulation for new, innovative businesses that would critically emphasise innovativeness for inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
The 4IR can be the solution that helps transform Namibian companies. Expansion of the regulatory perimeter can ensure that activities are appropriately and comparably regulated and supervised.
Furthermore, regulatory authorities might need to increase their ongoing scrutiny of the operational and process model of licensed institutions and introduce changes to ensure that they are able to discharge their consumer protection responsibilities.
However, regulators are lagging the disruptors, and are yet to adapt to this new reality. Innovation requires time, resources, and expertise. Not all investments will pay off, and there is a long way from concept to its effective application.
The development of Namibia in the digital space depends on growth in entrepreneurship that leverages digital technologies for market through innovation, an increase in inclusive economic growth, better market regulations, effective policy making, and strong public institutions that reduce political instability in governments, leading to stronger democracies.
For this to happen, the 4IR will need to become more accessible and will need to evolve to keep up with the changes. 4IR platforms help to build the businesses that establish an economy of record, which can dramatically raise the standard of living.
Therefore, for all the potential that these technologies offer, they could also put greater stress on the earth, its resources, and on our society. We should ensure, therefore, that these technologies are harnessed in the right way, to fulfil their potential to revolutionise our world, transform the lives of people, and unlock new pathways to prosperity fast-tracking sustainable development globally.
In conclusion, the truth is that if Namibia wants to be digitally literate, then it needs to embrace the 4IR and do so quickly.
Embracing the 4IR will have a positive impact on economic transformation. The opportunity for Namibia to show courage and adopt the Fourth Industrial Revolution really is immense.
The crosscutting nature of the 4IR warrants a multisectoral effort to understand its impacts, harness its benefits, and address its challenges.
Therefore, even if computers and robots could perform every task, economies would still rely on people to come up with new business ideas. That is why I call on governments to equip people with digital entrepreneurship skills.

Josef Kefas Sheehama

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