The Tussle between Man and Robots in Africa

As at the year 2000, maybe you would have waved off the idea of sharing your job with a robot.

Now, this science fiction has become reality.

Although Africa is faced with an unstable economy, the idea of implementing artificial intelligence (Robots) still sounds like a bad joke. A South African company, Ryonic Industries made commendable technological advancement on the continent when it launched the RMIS robot.

In less than 48 hours after its release, it generated huge interest from around the globe with a number of blue-chip international companies indicating their intention to visit South Africa to view the technology and discuss potential strategic partnerships.

“Africans understand frugal design and how to build electricity-resilient systems far better than Americans. I’m convinced that robotics will play an increasing role in Africa and that Africans will be play increasing role in robotics.”

Ken Goldberg (co-founder of the African Robotics Network (AFRON))

Most of the argument against the marginalization of Robots and Human labour in Africa is driven by the fear of the total take-over in every aspect of human life by Machine, rendering human intelligence useless. However, by the year 2030, it is expected that robotics could eliminate human labour completely in certain applications. It is also expected that a certain level of integration of industrial and service robots could occur eliminating the need for menial jobs that require a worker.

Aboubacar Savage, 14, from Gambia looks at a computer at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R. Shryock/VOA)
Dakar, Senegal (May 19, 2017) -Aboubacar Savage, 14, from Gambia looks at a computer at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal.


Artificial intelligence is the big thing in the world now, although it has been incorporated with the human intelligence globally, most Africans are still sceptical about this development.


“I look forward to developing robotic systems as solution to unique challenges being faced in Nigeria in areas like agriculture, medicine, rehabilitation among other. I am a firm believer that the problem being faced by a nation can only be solved effectively by resident of that nation as only they can fully experience in the unique challenges around” –Ishola Babatunde Isaac (Robotics enthusiasts)


In Africa, doubts about implementing artificial intelligence still linger. The question is, are we fully skilled and ready for this big thing? With the number of robots being used by businesses to boost productivity increasing rapidly in recent years, how do we cope? Capacity building may be the answer.

Robotics Contest for Youth Promotes Innovation in Africa

Lynsey Chutel, in her article, Man Vs Machine said: “As African populations urbanize, seeking work in factories in the city, unlike Europe and North America’s industrialization, those jobs may already have been taken over by robots and other forms of technology, Rodrik posits”.

 “…it is not just in factories, in service sectors, automation has created call­-center jobs but it may also take them away, as the World Bank’s Digital Dividends study pointed out”, she stressed.

Creation of Robots is indeed an evidence that technology evolves every from manual to automatic, likewise the era where most of the works will be carried out by Robots.  The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) anticipates that yearly robot installations will continue to grow at double-digit rates for the time being.

As robots and machines show signs of taking over a growing number of tasks; humans have to focus on their comparative advantages, including non-cognitive skills.

However, the view that Robots might take away jobs from humans stands, but logically they could also be programmed to create new jobs for Africans. Personally, I think Robots working alongside humans, with these African workers firmly in control of the machines, brings about a high rate of efficiency and productivity.

 “ it is for all of us to have a substantial ownership stake in the robot machines…Unless workers earn income from capital as well as from labour, the trend toward a more unequal income distribution is likely to continue, and the world will increasingly turn into a new form of economic feudalism. We have to widen the ownership of business capital if we hope to prevent such a polarization of our economies.”

                                                      – Freeman (2015)  

Obviously, nobody wants a machine to take over his/her job, but the world evolves every day. Therefore, it is important we control the trend and not get swept away by it.




Oluwatosin Agboola

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