A Fascinating Look into the 4th Industrial Revolution in Africa

On Thursday, April 18, the Center for African Studies hosted a dinner and talks for the event “Coffee, Tea, and IP”. (The event was co-sponsored in part by the International & Area Studies Library.) The theme of the two presentations, by Dr. Boatema Boateng and Dr. Chidi Oguamanam, was “Indigenous Knowledge, Intellectual Property, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Challenges and Opportunities for Africa”. The event began with a delicious catered meal and warm discussion, and the attendees gathered with their food to listen to the two speakers.

Adeyinka Alasafe, the Outreach Coordinator with the Center for African Studies, began her introduction with the inequality of the agriculture industries in Africa, explaining that while coffee from Ethiopia is renowned worldwide for its excellence and sells for expensive prices, hardly any of this money and acclaim goes back to the actual coffee growers. The cultivation of tea has followed a similar historical path, being a part of the reason for the establishment of the Silk Road, as well as colonial tea plantations in places such as East Africa and South Carolina. These crops are staples across the globe, but Western imperial powers and modern industries have subjected the indigenous peoples who grow it and cherish it as a part of their cultural heritages and medicinal practices to the “colonization of agriculture”. Considering this past, and the present inequalities that continue to harm indigenous peoples and communities, we must consider: what does colonial agriculture look like under modern capitalism? And as what place could and should African indigenous knowledge and intellectual property take in the current Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Dr. Boatema Boateng explored this history and the modern state of African economies in her presentation, beginning with a deep-dive into IP and patent law. She noted that previous to World War II, the United States was far more likely to disregard or break the IP policies of other nations rather than respect them. Scholars have put forth the idea that piracy is a stage of the United States’ economic development. The United States’ history of piracy should not be ignored or dismissed as we move forward into new economic waters and discussions of IP rights, because this pattern continues to the present day.

In the First Industrial Revolution, Africans and Africa were treated as resources. Slavery was a strong economic establishment, and colonization and the “Scramble for Africa” cut up the continent and her peoples in waves of genocide and imperial evil. This era was characterized by the widespread theft of raw materials from Africa and African peoples.

The Second Industrial Revolution marked a shift to electrical power the transition to democracy. In Africa there were high hopes and ambitions, but also many severe challenges as a result of centuries of subjugation and restriction from economic sovereignty. In what Dr. Boateng called a “sinister turn”, African nations turned away from attempts to reach self-sufficiency in favor of “competitive advantage” and the exportation of raw materials. The dependence of African nations on Western purchase of raw materials has carried through subsequent revolutions to the present day.

The Third Industrial Revolution centered on the emergence of digital technology as the most important industry, and information as the greatest commodity. New questions for IP and patent law arose alongside the Internet, and the adoption of digital banking and mobile money apps characterized new economic flows in Africa and beyond. In thinking about these changes, Dr. Boateng asks us: Who designs the technology? Who has the power and control? How are white, colonial, male, privileged perspectives and biases built into technology and our economic reality?

Dr. Boateng points to both global inequality and the failure of African political leaders to plan for the future as Africa’s great obstacles to economic development. She noted that others have states that, for example, “Ghana is back to the Gold Coast” — meaning that Ghana has returned to economic dependency upon exporting raw materials to Western nations. In addition to exporting valuable materials, African nations have become dumping grounds for the toxic waste of global industries, such as with fast fashion and electronics.

Due to this historical and current cycle of economic disruption and dependence, Dr. Boateng expressed apprehension about the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for African nations. She sees the same potential for harm to indigenous peoples and knowledges as in previous “revolutions”, and wonders whether we can break this pattern and inequality. She posits that in order for Africans and African nations to push their ambition, they must innovate with indigenous knowledge, take control over their data sovereignty, and protect their intellectual heritage.

Dr. Chidi Oguamanam focused more on the technological and scientific sides of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in his presentation, framing the “4IR” as a time of rapid and destructive transformations that focus on a digital revolution. This revolution is one that we are watching unfold in real time, with massive developments in computing possibilities, data science, and AI and machine learning. These technologies are marked by the “melding of knowledge and disciplinary boundaries”, as digital tech fuses with music, art, theater, food, sciences, and other fields to create new knowledge. This development presents the scary potential for “massive decimation” of traditional knowledge through cultural appropriation.

He also explored more closely the concept of “virualization” and papers that have been written about data and traditional knowledge, as well as Africa’s STI (Science, Technology, and Innovation) Framework. He notes that when building this framework, the faith in Western technology was so strong that African nations did not consider the possibilities of innovation with traditional knowledge. Now, the African Union still focuses on Western strategies and indigenous knowledge is “at most, peripheral”. In addition, only a few nations even have official STI and/or 4IR policies.

Dr. Oguamanam also dicussed the fascinating concept of the “bioeconomy” or “biotechonomy”, which is the intersection of life sciences and traditional knowledge in areas such as climate change, food, genetics, et cetera. In this biotechonomy, data has become the “new oil”, as the raw material for the intersection of science and tech. Data is a vastly valuable commodity and contested resource. When you are collecting data about people, communities, or climates, who owns that data? Who profits from it? Who is excluded from the profits? A central concern for indigenous communities must be the ability and legal right to control their own data.

Dr. Oguamanam also discussed the complexities of digitizing traditional knowledge, including asking the question: how do you digitize sacred and secret knowledge? Should it be digitized? Digitization efforts can be, according to Dr. Oguamanam, a “landmine for appropriation”, and present unique difficulties. From even the basic perspective of cost and infrastructure, the actual digitization process meets barriers at every turn. Who is paying for it, with what equipment, and who is doing the work? From a logistical standpoint, it is unclear where even to start with Africa’s vast number of cultures, traditions, and knowledge systems.

Dr. Oguamanam narrowed down his expansive presentation to a central point: It is imperative to rethink STI strategy in Africa across all fields and focus on TK in medicine, science, arts and music, etc. For Africa to compete in the 4IR, there is a lot of work and innovation to be done, and a shift in perspective is necessary.

In the following discussion session, Drs. Boateng and Oguamanam delved more deeply into questions on sustainability, ambition vs. “potential”, infrastructure, and education. It was a fascinating conclusion to a wonderful event!

If you would like to learn more about this topic, try checking out these resources:

Library Books

Landry Signé. 2023. Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution. (Online resource).

Wilma Viviers, Ali Parry, and Susara J. Jansen Van Rensburg, editors. 2021. Africa’s Digital Future: from theory to action. (Online resource).

David Mhlanga and Emmanuel Ndhlovu. 2023. The Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa: Exploring the Development Implications of Smart Technologies in Africa. (Online resource).

Everisto Benyera. 2021. The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Recolonisation of Africa: the coloniality of data. (Online resource).

Library Articles

Alabi, Adefunke O., and Stephen M. Mutula. 2022. “Human Development for the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Which Way for Sub-Saharan Africa?” Development Southern Africa 39 (4): 528–42. doi:10.1080/0376835X.2022.2098090.

Magagula, M.M., and O.A. Awodiji. 2024. “The Implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Technical and Vocational Education and Training in South Africa.” Social Sciences and Humanities Open 10 (January). doi:10.1016/j.ssaho.2024.100896.

Malapane, Tshepo Alex. 2019. “An Application of Data Mining in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – A Case of South Africa.” 2019 Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium (SIEDS), Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium (SIEDS), 2019, April, 1–6. doi:10.1109/SIEDS.2019.8735627.

Metu, Amaka Getrude, Chekwube Vitus Madichie, Chris Ulua Kalu, and Geraldine Ejiaka Nzeribe. 2020. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Role of Education.” Journal of African Development 21 (1): 116–37. doi:10.5325/jafrideve.21.1.0116.

Nwosu, Lilian Ifunanya, Makuena Clementina Bereng, Tlotlo Segotso, and Ngozi Blessing Enebe. 2023. “Fourth Industrial Revolution Tools to Enhance the Growth and Development of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Institutions: A Systematic Literature Review in South Africa.” Research in Social Sciences and Technology 8 (1): 51–62.

Oki, Olukayode Ayodele, Chinaza Uleanya, and Sesona Fikisi. 2024. “Adaptation to the Fourth Industrial Revolution among Generation Y in Rural Africa.” Africa Review 16 (2): 136–55. doi:10.1163/09744061-bja10088.

Ssekitoleko, Patrick, and Shepherd Dhliwayo. 2023. “Elevating South Africa’s Entrepreneurial Activity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution Era.” Administrative Sciences (2076-3387) 13 (9): 195. doi:10.3390/admsci13090195.

van Vuuren, J.C Jansen, and A Jansen van Vuuren. 2022. “Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution : Recommendations to Adapt Cyber Security Governance and Skills in South Africa.” Journal of Information Warfare 21 (1): 71–90.

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‘Black Panther’: A Realistic Africa within a Fictitious Wakanda

Black Panther theatrical poster

Post by Ashley Adams

For months now, people have been raving about Marvel’s Black Panther movie. It has received some criticism, but also overwhelming support and love from people all over the world.

Marvel produces superhero movies that are fascinating to watch, and sometimes have brief historical and realistic components, but this is the first time when fiction and reality combine in this specific way. Not only is this movie a first of its kind, with an almost entirely black cast, but it sets out to provide its viewers with a connection. For the first time, there is a black superhero who takes center stage. And although this story is based in fantasy, the filmmakers took the opportunity to fuse fantasy with real African concepts, cultures, and histories.

Wakanda is a fictitious Central East African nation that has not yet been discovered, let alone exploited by outside colonizers. It directly counters many common perceptions of Africa as being a dark, poor continent. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author, comes to mind when considering this perception and “the danger of a single story”. In reality, however, Africa is so much more. It is a continent rich in so many ways, and equally rich in diversity. This movie provides some insight into the diversity that is present throughout the continent, while it can also be seen as promoting a sense of identity, a sense of pan-Africanism.

A map of regions in Africa

One of the most visually exciting components of this movie is the fashion. Ruth E. Carter was the costume designer for the film, and she created a combination of traditional African attire with hi-tech Afropunk influences. Carter had the goal of creating attire for a fictional African nation that was completely original, but that also represented and honored both African history and African-American history. She took several trips to Africa and drew inspiration from those visits. Some of her specific inspiration came from the Dogon people of West Africa, the Turkana people in East Africa, the Hemba people in Congo, the Suri tribe in Ethiopia, the Tuareg people in Western and Northern Africa, along with several others, totaling over 10 different tribes and groups of people from throughout the continent (Giles, 2018). She combined these inspirations with an Afro-futuristic edge to create the original attire for the film. Check out a brief red carpet interview with Carter here when she talks about some of her favorite inspirations:

Throughout the film, characters are sometimes seen speaking to each other in another language. What is even more interesting, however, is the fact that this is a real African language. The filmmakers decided to incorporate isiXhosa, a South African language with over eight million native speakers, into the story line (Eligon, 2018). This language was not chosen at random, but was suggested by one of the actors in the film. John Kani, who plays T’Chaka, the father of T’Challa, in the film, is a native of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, and a native isiXhosa speaker. He suggested that the directors should incorporate some isiXhosa into the film’s dialogue to increase the African authenticity of the film. The filmmakers loved the idea, and the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, “wanted to make it a priority to use Xhosa as much as possible” throughout the film (Eligon, 2018). The usage of isiXhosa, however, was not random or sporadic throughout the film, but rather was strategically used during what would be considered natural or authentic situations. An example of this would be when two Wakandan characters wanted to discuss something privately but were in the presence of an outsider. The language itself is very difficult to learn, and because none of the cast were native speakers of isiXhosa, the filmmakers hired several dialect coaches, including Mr. Kani and his son. If you’re interested in hearing a bit about the pronunciation of isiXhosa, check out this video:

This film has definitely paved the way for new narratives about Africa. It has inspired viewers to consider more than a single story, and has increased pride for African culture, language, and history.

For more information on African Studies resources, visit the International and Area Studies Library’s African Studies Collections & Services page, or contact:

Atoma Batoma, PhD
African Studies Bibliographer
323 Library

Search for African language resources: https://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/languageresources/

News Sources:

Eligon, John. (2018, February 16). Wakanda Is a Fake Country, but the African Language in ‘Black Panther’ Is Real. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/wakanda-black-panther.html.

Giles, Chris. (2018, February 19). A journey into Wakanda: How we made Black Panther. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/16/africa/black-panther-behind-the-scenes-marvel/index.html.

Ashley M Adams
MS in Community Health Candidate, MA in African Studies Candidate
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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Power Africa Conference

How often do you take electricity for granted? For some of us, it’s not even something we think about often. Keeping cell phones charged is as simple as remembering to plug them in overnight. Staying up late at night to do homework is never hindered by a lack of light to read and write by. The wireless Internet router is always on and blinking away, keeping us in touch with friends, family, and coworkers via email and social media.

For many millions of people throughout the world, however, having regular access to electricity – whether at home or in public – is by no means a given. In fact, this is a major issue in terms of the growing disparities between people living in the so-called developed and developing nations.

This past March 2nd to 4th, the University of Illinois hosted a conference focused on electricity, politics, and inequality both on the African continent and in African nations’ relations to others, especially in the context of post-colonialism. “Power Africa: Promises, Potentials, Pitfalls, and Possible Alternatives” convened various expert panelists from Africa, Europe, and North America to discuss issues relating to how “power,” in both of its meanings, affects individuals’ relative quality of life in the Global South, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Several members of the UIUC faculty and staff community were present, including Prosper Panumpabi (originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo; Electrical Engineering), James J. Overbye (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Kiruba Haran (Sri Lanka/Nigeria; Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Tami Bond (Civil and Environmental Engineering). The event was sponsored by the Center for African Studies along with several co-sponsors and held at the Funk-ACES (Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences) Library on the UIUC campus.


Solar panel used to power hair clippers, Gurue, Mozambique. Photo by Dr. Julia Bello-Bravo (UIUC Center for African Studies).

Guest speakers included Claudia Schwartz of the U.S.African Development Foundation (USADF), James Murombedzi (UN Economic Commission for Africa Coordinator), Lauren MacLean (Department of Political Science, Indiana University), and Boaventura Monjane, a journalist and activist from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

The overarching tone of the event was one of careful optimism about the ways in which quality of life has risen with greater access to well-managed public utilities for average people, at least in some cases. At the same time, however, all speakers were concerned about the exploitative nature of transnational corporations involved in African countries and their lack of accountability to local populations in the extraction and processing of raw materials into power sources. Such is currently the case of Mozambique, and this issue was addressed in detail by one panelist, the Mozambican journalist and political activist Boaventura Monjane.

Monjane spoke on the event’s third day. In both his talk and its accompanying paper, he stated, “Despite its electricity generation potential, the greater part of [Mozambique] is entirely in darkness and access to electricity is among the lowest in the world. For instance, in rural areas about 1% of the population has access to electricity. Even in urban areas, access to and use of electricity is still very limited due to the high costs and erratic supply” (2015: 1). He also showed a photo of the injuries inflicted by local police on a participant at a recent protest against these discrepancies.

Members of the panel on  the topic "Is Power Africa Sustainable?" L to R: Dipti Bhatnagar, Baruti Amisi, James Murombedzi.

Members of the panel on the topic “Is Power Africa Sustainable?” (March 3rd). L to R: Dipti Bhatnagar, Baruti Amisi, James Murombedzi.

An article from the New York Times in November 2012 investigated these very issues. Specifically, the role of transnational energy corporations is exemplified in the case of the Brazilian coal mining firm Vale do Rio Doce, which is currently active in the Tete province of Mozambique. This company, however, was only one of several transnationals operating in Mozambique mentioned by Monjane in his presentation. Others mentioned were from both the Global North and South, including Chinese and Indian firms.

During the round table discussion Baruti Bahati Amisi (Dem. Republic of the Congo) concluded the conference itself on March 4th with the following words: “The well-being of the poor is not directly linked to technical issues. But it is directly affected if their interests are not kept in mind.”

To see the official program of the event, visit http://powerafrica.afrst.illinois.edu/.


Monjane, Boaventura. (2015). “Mozambique: An Energy-rich Country in the Dark.” Power Africa: Promises, Potentials, Pitfalls, and Possible Alternatives (Conference). 4 March 2015. UIUC Center for African Studies.

Polgreen, Lydia. (2012). “As Coal Boasts Mozambique, the Rural Poor Are Left Behind.” The New York Times. 10 November 2012. Online. Accessed: 19 March 2015.

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Staff Interview Series: Atoma Batoma

For the continuation of our staff introductions, I interviewed Atoma Batoma, who is an Associate Professor, CAM/Metadata Services/Monographic Cataloging. While his office is just a couple of steps away from my workstation, I only get to speak with him every once in a while. I was curious to find out more about Atoma, so I decided to interview him in order to get to know him better.

Atoma Batoma: African Studies Librarian

Atoma Batoma, our African Studies Librarian

Could you tell me a bit about your background? Where did you grow up and what school did you attend?

I grew up in a small village called Koukoude located in a mountainous region in North Togo. I attended a Presbyterian school until sixth grade.

What attracted you to librarianship?

After several years of teaching French and philosophy as a part timer, I decided to go back to school and get a practical degree that would help me get a more stable job. I have a degree in philosophy of language from a European University and I wanted an American degree in a discipline that complements my PhD.

What area did you decided to specialize in and why?

I decided to specialize in cataloging because the cataloging process is somewhat similar to the rule governed nature of philosophical reasoning.

I am aware that you speak several languages, how many? And how and why did you decided to learn them?

It depends on what we mean by “speak”. I can say for sure that I speak French and Kabye which is my mother tongue, as we call it in English. I have been using English since I came to the United States, but for me, English is my survival language. I still have to learn it in a formal way. I used to speak German back when I was in Europe. I still speak it from time to time with friends. I read it on a daily basis. Swahili is another language that I am fond of and which I try to speak on a daily basis. I am now learning Spanish in an intensive way and hope to spend some time in Latin America next year to improve my speaking knowledge.

What are your research or collection development interests?

My research is on African onomastics, that is, the study of African names: their characteristics, structure and functions. I am particularly interested in three onomastic research areas: anthroponomy or the study of personal names, toponymy (or the study of place names), and zoonymy (or the study of animal names). My main approach is socio-pragmatic; I am interested in finding out how African names are used as means of social and interpersonal communication.

When you’re not working, what hobbies do you have? What do you like to do around the Champaign-Urbana area?

Gardening and reading children’s books are my favorite pastimes. Once in a while I drive to Meadowbrook Park on Windsor Road and walk around the park for an hour or so. In the summer time I go to the Farmers Market at Lincoln Square almost every Saturday morning. After the market I stop by Urbana Free Library or Strawberry Field for a cup of tea.

Describe a typical day at your job

I start my day at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. by checking my e-mail and answering urgent messages from patrons and colleagues both on campus and from other institutions. In case I do not have meetings to attend I spend the rest of the morning working on committee-related projects (I am on local as well as national library committees). I take my lunch time at noon or 1:00 p.m. depending on the progress I made on my morning work. I prefer to eat lunch at the Espresso Royal where I can hide in the back of the café and read a children’s book or news in a foreign language (usually in Swahili or Spanish).  My afternoons this month are dedicated to meetings with patrons and/or colleagues, working on the IAS division related projects and on the third edition of Al Kagan’s Reference Guide to Africa.

What career advice would you give to someone who is interested in librarianship or someone who wants to specialize in your area of interest?

It is important to learn at least one foreign language and take classes in African Studies. To specialize in African librarianship it is important to learn at least two major African languages (Swahili, Arabic, Hausa, Amharic, etc.) in addition to at least two colonial languages (English, French, German and Portuguese). It is also important to take classes in African Studies.

What are your proudest accomplishments as a librarian?

Helping with the training of RDA both at this Library and at two African Libraries: The Tanzanian University library in Dar es Salaam, and Makerere University in Uganda. RDA (Resource Description and Access) is the new cataloging standard which replaced AACR2 (the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules) in 2013.  Prior to becoming the new African Studies Librarian this year I worked in technical services division for several years and as a cataloger I helped eliminate the Africana backlog.

What is something at the International and Area Studies Library that people should know about? (a service, collection, or book?)

Check out the impressive Africana collection and the Brown Bag presentation on Shea Butter Production in Africa that we have just added under the Category of “Africa and Gender”.

(Author’s note: This event has passed, but for other Brown Bag Lectures, be sure to check out the outreach website )

I am happy to say that I know more about a staff member at the International and Area Studies Library (IAS). Keep an eye out for our interviews with more staff members! For more information about IAS’s Africana Collections and Services, make sure to visit their website.



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