Why Africa should embrace AI and automation

Stefan dercon on why we shouldn't fear robots


Pathways’ academic directors Benno Ndulu and Stefan Dercon appeared on a panel at the Centre for the Study of African Economies Conference (CSAE). The conference, held at Oxford University’s St Catherine’s college, brought together more than 400 leading thinkers from around the world to discuss economic development in Africa.

The panel, led by Stefan Dercon, discussed what automation and AI will mean for economic prospects in Africa and shared thoughts on the potential pathways to inclusive economic growth Africa could take. They were joined by Professor Douglas Gollin from Oxford University’s Department for International Development, who also co-authored a Commission background paper on structural transformation and growth without industrialisation, and Gaurav Nayyar, Senior Economist at the World Bank.

The continent is progressing fast and the share of people living in extreme poverty has decreased. Africa is catching up in terms of infrastructure and allowing more and more people to get online, which is a source of huge opportunities. The opportunities and the stakes are high for Africa; but the continent is of course diverse and the effects of automation on manufacturing are not uniform. African countries need to find their own pathways to prosperity through digitally led structural transformation.

Many manufacturing and services jobs require adaptation, coordination and decision making, and robots will struggle to replace these functions. The panellists highlighted that human labour is Africa’s greatest asset and people need to be developed to ensure the poorest men and women are not left further behind in a digital age.