Technology for sustainable development in Africa

“The importance of technology on achieving sustainable development cannot be overemphasized and African nations ought to embrace technological advancements in order to remain competitive on the global scene and ultimately, achieve sustainable development”.

By Bbilas Chiyembekezo Ndalama

(Life coach and lecturer in the faculty of commerce at the Catholic University of Malawi)

Sustainable development is a cross-cutting issue which cannot be tackled by a single country alone based on its multi-faceted nature. On this basis, it requires integrated effort and a multi-stakeholder approach to be attained.

The United Nations Global Goals delineates sustainable development as a phenomenon that hinges on four main objectives which are intertwined: economic development, encapsulating poverty eradication/reduction, social inclusion, environmental/ecological sustainability and good governance, which has security enhancement at its core. These dimensions are intertwined as they affect one another and collectively, form the basis for sustainable development.

Whilst the United Nations and its member nations alike have touted and demonstrated their commitment to achieving sustainable development through strict adherence to the global goals, there appear to be more that is yet to be done in order to succinctly pave a road map for attaining the goals. Partnerships for the goals as is enshrined in SDG no. 17 presents a mundane modus operandi for ensuring and achieving the goals in entirety.

However, as the devil is in the details, there is need to appreciate what is espoused in the partnerships as it would be appreciated that each goal should call for a specific strategy to be achieved. It would therefore be argued further that countries ought to concentrate on fine-tuning the enablers for sustainable development in addition to knowing the goals. Just like the dimensions of sustainable development are numerous and variable, so too are its antecedents. Whilst, there is an emphasis on achieving SDGs, the impact of the mediating role of antecedents to developments appear not to have been tackled to the core. There are many sub sets of the SDGs despite limiting them to 17 only.

Sustainable development defined

Being a multifaceted and dynamic phenomenon, sustainable development is influenced by several factors which include certain elements as espoused in the SDGs, good governance, peace and tranquility and technology. This article will tackle the impact of technology on sustainable development with a focus on Africa. Just like it has been alluded to in the introductory part of this article, the United Nations countries have done much on sensitising the masses on the need to achieve SDGs or to tailor their national goals to SDGs as a blue print for achieving sustainable development. However, a thorough analysis of the preconditions for sustainable development appears to have been overlooked. This article will therefore dissect through technology as an antecedent of sustainable development. A brief analysis of the development in African countries will be provided before the discussion on the impact of technology on sustainable development is tackled.

Operationalising Strategic Development Goals in Africa

As a blue print for sustainable development, operationalising SDGs in Africa cannot be overemphasised especially when we are almost drawing towards the timeline for the 2030 Agenda in relation to the SDGs. It is therefore imperative to assess how Africa has fared on the achievement of SDGs. Like it has alrea

dy been appreciated, SDGs succinctly provide targets that are timely-bound in various key sectors of the economy which are believed to be the bedrock of sustainable development. For instance, health education, employment, energy, infrastructure and the environments are key parameters on which the performance of SDGs hinge.

In this vein, Africa’s status on the development ladder can be appreciated by evaluating performance based on these aspects. However, these would still be considered as sub-sets of the SDGs as they scaffold the achievement of the SDGs, which require specific strategies for achieving them.

Dissecting through the SDGs makes one appreciate that the SDGs are in two categories: those that are pure objectives and another set that includes both facets of objectives and strategies for achieving the other SDGs. For instance, Partnerships for the goals are an integral consideration for achieving SDGs as they also act as strategies for achieving other SDGs. For the other goals to be achieved, the power of partnerships cannot be overlooked, as they permeate through the whole strata through providing the much-needed impetus for collaborated effort in the achievement of the goals.


However, partnerships are just the starting point and only provide a starting point towards addressing the SDG implementation quagmire and they will only be effective in environments where all other factors like infrastructure and technological backbone are favourable. For this reason, there is need to zero in on various antecedents of sustainable development in order to achieve the SDGs. But, this article has been limited to technology as a pillar of sustainable development.

The number of SDGs is limited with their corresponding sub goals. Peace and tranquility and technology are amongst the major antecedents to meaningful and sustainable development.

Current status of progress on the achievement of SDGs

According to the Africa SDG Index and Dashboard (2019), African countries have not done well on the index signifying that they still have a long way to go in as far as achievement of the SDGs is concerned. For instance, Mauritius is the only super performer with an aggregate score of 66% towards completion with Ghana, Botswana, and Rwanda trailing it. A bulk of countries with an average performance of less than 50% are from  Sub Saharan Africa. According to the report, the tumbled performance has been blamed on various obstacles like rapid population growth and climate change with its attendant aftermath of floods and global warming.

Nevertheless, as the data presents a scenario for a particular time point, the impact of these obstacles presents only one side of the story. As such, there was need for cross-sectional data to appreciate if there are other factors that account for non-achievement or achievement of SDGs. There is therefore a need to analyse the impact of a couple more factors on SDG achievement like innovations, infrastructure and technologies as are espoused in Global Goal no. 9.

For instance, climate change can be managed through application, and employment of technology to minimise emissions of Chloro-Floro-Carbons (CFCs) into the environment and other initiatives like reforestation and other ecological management strategies. Based on the individual country experiences, the mainstreaming of the SDGs into national plans has not helped much, hence the need for considering the antecedents more as the basis for appreciating strategies for achieving SDGs, with technological advancement at the heart of it.

Africa must adopt technology

SDGs have been touted as the blue print for sustainable global development in history, according to Foresight Africa Report (2020). Yet, Africa seems to have tumbled in the achievement of SDGs, due to its steadfastness in mainstreaming the SDGs without contextualizing the blue print. Of course, there are a host of other factors that contributed to the meagre performance like lags on technology adoption. This therefore, calls for cultivating country-specific strategies for achieving SDGs.

For instance, Rwanda has managed to score higher in achieving SDGs than other African countries owing to the domestication of the SDGs including strengthening statistical capacity, increasing implementation capacity, resource mobilization and ease of doing business, human capital development and job creation and implementing Africa’s free trade protocols.

Nonetheless, whilst these have catapulted Rwanda to where it is on the sustainable development ladder, issues of technological infrastructure as a backbone for any country’s manufacturing prowess cannot be overlooked as it has contributed to the country’s development to a large extent. African countries will therefore, neglect adoption of technologies at their own peril.

According to World Economic Forum (WEF), Africa’s economic growth will be greatly achieved through adoption of digital economy innovations and calls to invest more in Research and Development that is aimed at creating home-grown digital solutions. It should be appreciated that there exist some moderators for economic growth that have traditionally been considered as ‘acts of God’, signifying that nations have no control over them.

Still, with good technologies in place, the impact of natural calamities is lessened. This corroborates the World Economic Forum which asserts that mitigating the effects of climate change depends to a large extent on how innovative and inclusive African nations are.

Conversely, embracing climate-smart technologies also depends on the respective country’s GDP which further translate to capabilities to afford such technologies and sustaining environments that are devoid of CFCs. For example, most African nations have introduced tax regimes that restrict importation of secondhand vehicles so as to control carbon emissions into the environment. Though, this has drastically affected the transport sector, which is another crucial condition for development; thereby presenting a paradox as solving problem results in another (zero-sum).

However, other African nations like South Africa have managed this aspect very well through enacting policies that favour their citizenry through collaboration with the private sector, through making it easy for customers to access brand new motor vehicles on favourable terms that aim at compensating for the ban on the importation of second-hand vehicles.

The dividends of Technology

Technologies come in all manner. For example, manufacturing technologies, service delivery, market delivery channels and decision support systems have made it possible for companies to graduate from the brick-and-motor way of doing business and start using e-channels. On this basis, embracing technologies is no longer optional; it is a must for nations to adopt technologies in order to sustain their economies.

Technology has been touted for its impact which enables organisations to become more efficient which results in more output. For instance, modern management information systems have made it possible for organisations to cut down on some factors of production like labour, thereby releasing the unemployed labour for more production. Whilst this may create short run pressures for individuals, in the long run, this results in cost efficiencies through the availability of more labour on the market.

Based on current statistics, more advanced economies appear to have strong technological backbones, suggestive of the fact that there is a positive correlation between technological advancement and achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. Based on the World Economic Forum, it has been projected that Africa’s e-economy will be worth over $180 Billion which will be buoyed by the digitalization of language aimed at improving literacy levels.

Further projections have also projected, based on current trends, that a huge proportion of the world population will be exposed to technology through for instance, social media and other cloud-based commercial platforms. The impact of technology will either be disruptive for those that will fail to adopt technologies as they will be driven out of business, whilst the nations that adopt such technologies will have leverage over those that are indifferent to the world of technologies.

For instance, it is believed that over 70% of the 136 SDG targets are expected to be enabled by technology applications in the next two decades, as such technology is integral to the functioning of national economies and is dubbed ‘the fourth industrial revolution’ where the operating environment is fraught with rapid evolution caused by digitalization, globalization and technological innovations (Science+Tech, 2023).

Africa should contextualise SDGs

The arguments that have been presented in this article are premised on the assertion that African countries are grappling with the implementation of SDGs due to several context-specific factors. However, technological factors appear to play a bigger part in this challenge.

African countries have been preoccupied with mainstreaming SDGs without contextualizing the phenomenon, let alone, zeroing in on the antecedents of sustainable development as presented in their own contexts. Failure to contextualize the SDGs and failure to deal with country-specific antecedents to sustainable development appear to account for the failure by countries to achieve SDGs.

However, whilst it is appreciated that there are many factors that affect sustainable development, technology and innovation are key in the achievement of SDGs. A case in point is Rwanda where technology adoption has been taken seriously, thereby enabling it to score highly on the SDG ladder. Technology and innovations are therefore, integral elements in the achievement of SDGs. This is in line with Global Goal no. 9 which is anchored by partnerships for the goals (Global Goal no. 17).

It is further argued that achieving sustainable development should start with in-country capability assessments hinging on the various antecedents that are applicable within their context as these pertain to country-specific resources or those that may be available through importation or acquired through other means.

Other enablers towards accomplishing SDGs

Technology and innovation are also integral elements in achieving sustainable development as they aim to build agile infrastructure and sustainable supply chains. They also promote inclusivity and sustainable industrialization. With its attendant elements of infrastructure, industrialization and innovation, technology ensures that nations are able to register meaningful and sustainable development as they provide a safe haven for other resources within institutions.

Industrialisation has been known for its potential to drive economies through ensuring that production takes place and that job creation takes place. Perhaps, this could explain why industrialised nations suffer low rates of unemployment, of course, all other factors being equal!

Innovation as a subset of Global Goal no. 9 tends to unsettle workers so that they become uncomfortable with the status quo and strive for continuous improvement. In this vein, nations are in a position to remain relevant on the international market as they are able to continuously improve the quality of their product and service offerings. Technology has also made it possible for nations to have access to information and communications technology in the most affordable manner, hence this contributes to sustainable development.

Availability of clean energy is also crucial in industries as it powers up plants for production and delivery of services to take place. In this vein, access to reliable electricity is paramount for industrialization, and has contributed to the birth of the fourth industrial revolution. For instance, Malawi, has been grappling with electricity power woes in the past decade. This adversely affected production and export capabilities. However, the situation has improved and more citizens are expected to be connected to the national grid through the Malawi Electricity Access Project (MEAP).


The importance of technology on achieving sustainable development cannot be overemphasized and African nations ought to embrace technological advancements in order to remain competitive on the global scene and ultimately, achieve sustainable development. On this basis, technological advancement and innovations are expected to feature high on the 2063 Agenda for African nations.

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