By Patrick Okigbo III
The earth shakes when a giant tree falls. One such tree fell this week, but you probably didn’t notice. ExxonMobil dropped off the Dow Jones Industrial Average; an index it has been on for close to a century (although under the name Standard Oil Company of New Jersey). The world hardly paused to comprehend this epic event. Indeed, the requiem for the old economy has been on for a while.
Technology is disrupting the world as it was known yesterday. As of 2013, ExxonMobil was the most valuable company in the world. Seven years later, it was bumped off its perch at the Dow by Salesforce.com, a tech company founded in 1999. A more graphic picture is of Apple, another tech company, whose market valuation is as big as that for the energy, utilities and materials sectors combined.
Have resource-rich African leaders noticed that the world is pivoting towards new economies? How much time do they dedicate to debates on the imminent impact of these disruptive technologies? Do these countries have the requisite regulations, hard and soft infrastructure, and the enabling institutions to ensure a transformation to a digital economy?
Countries are like African baobab trees. The trees are resilient and regenerate even when they are stripped or burnt. The trees die only when they catch a rot that typically starts slowly and unnoticed from inside until, suddenly, they collapse in a heap of fibre. Such is the fate of countries.
Many Africa countries are already in deep economic rot. The widening technological chasm between the global north and south will hasten the metastasis. To grow out of this morass, Africa needs bold leaders who can see big visions and who can muster the political support to implement them. This requirement is the absolute first step. The other ideas will follow.
The train is leaving the station. Most of the developed world are already seated. Africa must get off this platform and grab its seat. Missing this train will have monumental consequences. Think of the lost tribes of the Amazon. They, too, numbered in their millions before history forgot them.