The world began a period of transition in 2008 with the onset of the Great Recession. It brought the knowledge of globalization and the interconnectedness of world economies to the forefront of every political conversation, as the ripple effects of the banking and housing crisis moved from the West around the world. By 2014, things were back to normal, except for the even wider chasm left between socio-economic classes. The 2008 crisis marks the ‘Before Covid’ (BC) era, where our wake-up call was not loud enough to set preparations in motion for the next demonstration of global interconnectedness. Countries continued to govern and create policies following past norms. The only new additions were a sprinkling of trip-guards to avoid a future banking-induced catastrophe like the great recession.
When the pandemic began in 2020, the world entered the next phase of its transition. Countries were made acutely aware of the globalization of disease. Interconnectedness took on a broader meaning beyond the economies of state. Security risks jumped to the forefront of foreign policy with powerful demonstrations of how globalization has fostered access to internet systems, including those of our governments. While governments scrambled to provide sustainability, the private sector’s critical role is exemplified through discussions with the Gates Foundation, Alibaba Founder, Aliko Dangote, Pfizer, and other pharmaceutical companies. Unlike the BC era, the “After Covid’ (AC) wake-up call rang loud as it rippled through multiple sectors worldwide; economy, politics, security, health systems, science, education, infrastructure, food security, trade, climate, and small business.
Societal order in the AC era marks a different phase of the world’s transition and likely to be addressed in 2022. How society functioned BC will not be the same AC in terms of education, paper money, travel, business spaces, work shifts, and commercial property, to name a few. All of these have lost value. What we did BC to earn income, we no longer do, or we do it from home. There is likely to be a significant percentage of high school students and office workers who will continue to work from home. Many will continue to shop online from Amazon, Alibaba, Jumia, Shopee, eBay, or Mercado Libre as part of the AC era norms. The increase in “e-wallet” use and the decrease in paper money circulation and coinage render cash towards obsoletion. Not to mention that treasuries worldwide are printing so much money to jumpstart the AC era that inflation by 2023 is a given. Airlines and small businesses may adapt an AC business model that is nimble and partially reliant on government subsidies.
The AC era means global gig economies become dominant. Creative jobs and manual labor convalesce together in the spirit of nationalism. No country can risk dependency on another country knowing the economic, political, and societal risks after experiencing the global events of 2008 and 2020. Likewise, no country can be too sure of its sustainability on mercantilism and therefore must strengthen its alliances. A delicate balance is needed, which means moderation in trade. More critical, is moderation in paying excessive salaries is essential, as joblessness and poverty are the match that strikes the flame of global protests (Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, ISIS, BLM, the Capitol Insurrection). These protests can disturb economies, ruin small businesses, and breed misinformation campaigns from foreign adversaries. Poverty also leads to easily transmitted diseases by humans seeking food from abundant sources such as monkey and bat meat (Ebola and COVID-19).
The AC era needs AI programmers, solar technicians, engineers, and peddlers to sell e-accessories, battery chargers, cheap internet dishes, and vocational talents for society’s everyday needs. With the global popularity of STEM education, third-world countries now have the talent needed to be more sustainable through the trade of goods and services within their own continent. The Africa Free Trade Agreement is looking at great potential. The continent has the largest population of youth globally, and they are of a different mindset than their post-colonial predecessor population. The youth-bulge of Africa serves as the continent’s largest consumer base. Nigeria has the highest population of all 55 African countries, with 50+million cell phone users. And, Rwanda launched the first 100% African-made smart-phone in October 2019, with sales continuing amidst the pandemic in 2020.
The digital transformation that is part of the AC era plays the most significant role in food security and climate change. To feed the world’s population in 2030, we must produce 28% more food while simultaneously dealing with climate change that is causing a decrease in arable land available for crops. Sub-saharan Africa has the world’s largest amount of arable land. Agriculture technology (agri-tech) is key to ensuring the maximization of yields from harvests to feed the future. Climate technology, such as cloud-seeding for rain, will be relied upon to boost food production on arid lands. Flooding is likely to be approached through technology as well. In some parts of India, floating vegetable gardens (hydroponics) already exist. Food security and climate disasters are risks that cross sovereign borders and affect all nations’ security and survival.
To learn what additional risks or advances lie ahead, look no further than Hollywood. Here we can playfully see the outcomes on society, industry, and governance through creative uses of technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the films Robot & Frank (2012), Timberlake’s video Filthy (2018), and children’s films Robots (2015) and Wall-E (2008). Fast-forward eight years, and the world is at the precipice of realizing aspects of those storylines. We are not headed for evolution; it has already begun.
In conclusion, the BC era awakened countries to the realities of globalization. In the AC era, that realization is heightened. Countries learn to adapt to new threats that do not respect sovereign boundaries, be they physical (disease), ideological (misinformation), or intangible (cyber). Though nations shore up on nationalism to protect from further deterioration of political, economic, and social stability, heads of state know that relationships and alliances matter in a hyper-interconnected world. Moderation across politics is the way forward, but with aggressiveness in the digital sector. The Central Bank of Argentina recently launched a national digital-pay system. Nigerian authorities struggle with how to curb the rise of cryptocurrency used in its monetary system. Geopolitically, don’t look for BC norms to work in the AC era. Look for nation-states to partner more with the private sector to help government adapt to the new frontier.