Robots are set to take Africa’s manufacturing jobs even before it has enough

It was supposed to be Africa’s century, then the robots arrived.

The dawning of the fourth industrial revolution offered African countries the opportunity to take advantage of technological gains, leapfrogging their developed counterparts. As China did at the end of the last century, Africa could have taken advantage of relatively cheap, semi-skilled labor in its youthful population, finally diversifying the continent’s economies into manufacturing and services as engines for growth.

Instead, everything African workers could have done, robots can do better and faster. Industrial robots and artificial intelligence are increasingly threatening manufacturing in emerging markets. Economist Dani Rodrik calls this missed opportunity “premature deindustrialization” (pdf).

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