Digitalisation and the Future of Manufacturing in Africa

Karishma Banga and Dirk Willem te Velde, March 2018



The growing digitalisation of economies and the associated rapid spread of advanced technologies like 3D printers, robots and cloud computing, is having a significant impact on manufacturing production globally. While the digital divide between developed and developing countries (particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa) is still significant, this does not mean developing countries will not be affected in the coming decades. With wages rising even in low-income countries, automation may become an increasingly attractive option to domestic firms, and furthermore, creeping automation of manufacturing in developed countries will have a knock-on effect globally.

With investment and growth in manufacturing traditionally seen as one of the most promising pathways to industrialisation and economic transformation for developing economies, the question of how governments can prepare for this inevitable change is a crucial one for Africa’s long-term growth trajectory.

This paper presents new empirical analysis of the potential impact of growing digitalisation in manufacturing on Africa, and discusses what policymakers can do to exploit their current window of opportunity, address constraints in traditional manufacturing and prepare for the ‘digital wave’, which will bring with it a whole host of new opportunities and challenges.

Selected media and other coverage

‘US robots set to become cheaper than wages in Kenya’, East Africa Business Week, 16 March

‘Robots and automation: how Africa is at risk’, BBC Africa, 19 March

World Business Report, BBC World Service, 19 March (at 19.30)

Focus on Africa, BBC World Services, 19 March (at 4.18)

‘Selon l’Overseas Development Institute : Les robots seront moins chers que la main d’œuvre africaine à partir de 2034’, L’, 20 March (in French)

‘Will US robots take over African people’s jobs?‘ Software Testing News, 20 March

‘US robots ‘set to take’ African jobs’, Business Ghana, 20 March

‘US robots set to take African jobs’, Modern Ghana, 20 March

‘I robot e l’automazione dei processi, le nuove minacce per l’economia africana’, La Stampa Economia, 20 March (in Italian)

‘África se encuentra en riesgo en lo que respecta al servicio de automatización’, Blasting News, 20 March (in Spanish)


Graphics: SET Programme. All rights reserved.

Photo: Factory workers producing shirts at Sleek Garment Export, in Accra, Ghana on October 13, 2015. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank.
License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.