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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Why I Think You Should Meet Elizabeth Wickes

By Matt Hendrick

If you’ve ever lost a folder or spent hours trying to find an old file, Elizabeth Wickes (who works with Heidi Imker, the Head of the Research Data Service (RDS), and her colleagues Elise Dunham, Colleen Fallaw, and Qian Zhang) can help you. Elizabeth is a Data Curation Specialist at the RDS who helps researchers and students learn how to properly organize and manage their data.

Help from Elizabeth can even be the reason you receive or do not receive federal funding. If you ever plan on applying for a federal grant, you will likely need to create a Data Management Plan (DMP). If you have no idea what a Data Management Plan is, the RDS can help you. If you do know what a DMP is, but don’t know how to create one or want some feedback on a draft, the RDS can help you.

Last semester, I had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth and ask her about the RDS, Data Management Plans, and the best practices for organizing data.

  1. What is the Research Data Service?

The Research Data Service is dedicated to helping Illinois researchers manage and steward their data throughout the research process. When I say data, I can mean whatever you are using to base your conclusions off of. People often say “I don’t have data.” You do. Everyone has data. You are basing your conclusions on something. This can be books, specimens, interviews, statistics, etc.

  1. What services does the RDS offer?

We have three core services: data management workshops and consultations, Data Management Plan creation help, and the Illinois Data Bank. Our workshops and one-on-one consultations are usually the best place to get started with data management and gives us an opportunity to discuss your specific situation and give you personalized advice on how to manage your data. You can book a personal consultation at http://go.illinois.edu/bookRDS. The RDS also holds regular workshops (in collaboration with the Scholarly Commons) covering various data management and data publishing topics. In addition, we offer customized data management talks or workshops to fit the needs of teams of all sizes and disciplines. We’ll be talking about the Illinois Data Bank and Data Management Plans later on.

  1. Who can use the RDS and attend its workshops?

Everyone is welcome to attend the RDS workshops; no I-Card is required. The RDS is designed to help research and data management from all individuals, at all stages. Undergraduates, graduates, and faculty have access to all of the RDS’s services.

  1. How should researchers handle data that is either confidential, private, or proprietary?

We help a great many researchers with sensitive data, but our advice is very dependent on the type of data and the context. For example, for scholars with sensitive humanities data the RDS recommends our institutional Box for storage. UIUC’s Box is approved for IRB storage and, when permissions are set up appropriately, it is one of the easiest ways to manage and share IRB data with a project team. When it comes to sensitive data and human subjects, the IRB is always the final word. We would not give the same recommendation to scholars with HIPAA data (health data), as that has very explicit legal requirements. Whatever issues you may have with sensitive data, we will walk you through the process and give you advice tailored to your specific situation.

  1. What are the best practices of data management?

Among the two most important data management steps an individual can take are: keeping secure backups of all their data (Box or an encrypted external hard drive) and maintaining personal computer security (see our library’s “Computer Security Tips” and the Technology Service’s information on security for more information).

Some general best practices for organizing your data include: having consistent and unique file names, avoiding special characters and spaces (use underscores instead), and including a version number and date for all your files (with consistent formatting). See the RDS’s pages on “Saving and Sharing Your Data” and “Organizing Your Data” for more detailed information. We also offer private consultations to help you develop and implement an organizational system.

  1. What is a Data Management Plan (DMP) and why would someone create one?

In 2013, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memo mandating that federally funded research programs must be open access and have a plan for data management (beginning in 2015). Today, many federal grant applications must have a Data Management Plan (DMP). So if you haven’t submitted a grant in the last couple years, this will probably be new to you.

While DMP requirements do differ from funder to funder, they are usually one or two page documents that answer the specific questions of the funder. The general purpose is to explain how you will manage, secure, acquire, and share your data. You will also have to explain what your data will be, how you’ll manage it during the project, and how you’ll store it after the project is done. The level of detail they expect varies by funder and some funders place higher levels of emphasis on the DMP. Some funders consider it a key element of the grant portfolio, while others do not. You cannot simply presume the DMP is not going to matter; an increasing number of funders who initially didn’t place a great deal of emphasis on the DMP, now do.

It is primarily faculty who are applying for these funding opportunities and are required to create a DMP, but we are seeing more grad students and post-docs needing to submit ones for fellowship project applications. Also, any graduate student who is planning to remain in academia and applies for a federal grant will have to create a Data Management Plan. Sometimes graduate assistants working for a faculty member may also be involved in this process, but every team works differently. The DMP creation plan process can also be valuable for a team as they create new projects, because it makes you ask and answer many tough questions. Pain points can be discovered early on in the process rather than during crunch times.

  1. How can RDS with the process of creating a Data Management Plan?

If you send us your proposal, the call you are responding to, and a draft of your Data Management Plan, we will take a look at all those documents and provide you with expert advice. We have an entire network of subject specialists that we bring in who know your subject and your funders. The process is entirely confidential and is as simple as sending out an email to researchdata@library.illinois.edu. We also have a short list of best practices that goes over the biggest pain points we see coming in on a regular basis.

  1. What is the difference between IDEALS (Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship) and the Illinois Data Bank?

IDEALS and the Illinois Data Bank are our institutional repositories for research and scholarship. You can think of them as sibling repositories. They are intentionally separated as it is more efficient. In short, IDEALS is primarily designed for texts (dissertation, theses, papers, presentations, manuscripts, etc.) while the Illinois Data Bank is primarily designed and optimized for data. This method of dividing our data storage allows us to maximize the metadata that is being transmitted; essentially, this makes your data more discoverable and reusable.

  1. What can scholars of the humanities deposit in these repositories?

You cannot deposit anything that is under copyright or data that is sensitive (such as protected human subject data), but this is something that we can help you navigate. You do have the ability, as an alternative, to deposit your derivative data files. For example, if you are doing topic modeling on copyrighted novels, you can’t deposit the novels, but you can deposit the topic modeling information that you have created and are basing your research on. Additionally, you can deposit any field notes that you have; you can de-identify these to whatever extent you wish (so long as you are in compliance with the IRB and your participant consent).

  1. Do you have any general advice for students regarding the RDS and our library in general?

I want to encourage all students to look at all the services the library offers outside of just the collections. The library is a lot more than simply books. In addition to the RDS, we have a many experts and services that can help with a broad range of issues related to your research. I also advise students and faculty to take advantage of our library’s consultation services; these can be a tremendous resource and they are often overlooked.

The Research Data Service is on the south side of the third floor of the Main library in the rooms of 310-312. They do not have a patron-facing area and usually use the neighboring Scholarly Commons area for their meetings. You can set up a meeting by calling their phone number (217-300-3513) or sending an email to researchdata@library.illinois.edu.

In addition to Elizabeth Wickes, the staff of the RDS includes Heidi Imker (Director), Colleen Fallaw (Research Programmer), Elise Dunham (Data Curation Specialist), and Qian Zhang (CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation with CIRSS).

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