Author: Jake Okechukwu Effoduh
Affiliated organisation: Openair
Site of publication: openair.africa
Type of publication: Article
Date of publication: October 2020
Several reports on States’ adoption of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) across the world have indicated that African countries have a “slow” or “low” AI adoption rate. Here are seven ways that this technology is being legitimized and integrated by African states today:
- Developing National AI Strategies
- Establishing AI Agencies, Task Forces and Commissions
- Amending Existing Laws and Creating New Regulations
- Building Strategic Partnerships
- Initiating Public Sector Reform with AI
- Driving AI Education, Training and Research
- Fostering A Continental (African) Approach to AI
Developing National AI Strategies
By recognizing the potential for AI to improve GDP and provide competitive advantage, some African States are driving economic expansion by developing national AI strategies, aimed at advancing investment, talent development and financial aid. Mauritius became one of the first African countries to publish its 70-page AI national strategy. The Mauritius Artificial Intelligence Strategy (MAIS) marks the country’s dedication towards making AI a cornerstone of its next development model.
Senegal is building an “AI city” 35 kilometres from its capital. Benin Republic is also developing its first AI digital neighbourhood in Cotonou
Establishing AI Agencies, Task Forces and Commissions
Kenya established a Blockchain & Artificial Intelligence Taskforce to contextualize the application of AI in areas of the country’s financial inclusion, cyber-security, land titling, election and single digital identity processes.
Promulgating AI Laws and Regulations
Some African States are demonstrating that it is not completely unreasonable to assert regulatory oversight on AI within their respective territories. While some are adopting a “wait and see” approach, others have begun taking active steps toward domestic regulatory oversight. At a supranational level, even the Continent’s highest decision-making body, the African Union, has called for a structured regulation of AI to manage the benefits of the technology for Africans, and to foresee and curb the risks. Senegal launched several initiatives to create an enabling regulatory and policy framework for start-ups. Via a Policy Hackathon, a ‘Start-up Bill’ was submitted to the government for passage and became law.
Initiating Public Sector Reform with AI
Blockchain technology is being used by government departments in Kenya, including the respective Ministries of Lands and Health. Rwanda has enlisted anti-epidemic robots in its fight against the coronavirus. AI is also finding its way into policing, security, and wildlife conservation procedures. South Africa is the first country after the United States to implement “shotspotter” audio technology, used to fight wildlife poaching in the Kruger National Park and gun violence on the Cape Flats.
At a supranational level, even the Continent’s highest decision-making body, the African Union, has called for a structured regulation of AI to manage the benefits of the technology for Africans, and to foresee and curb the risks
Driving AI-Specific Education, Training and Research
In the last three years alone (2017 – 2020), several African governments have approved and/or initiated AI centres and programmes on the continent to promote knowledge, acquisition and mobilization of AI.
Building Strategic Partnerships
Initiating strategic partnerships has been a major vehicle for AI adoption on the continent. With several African states partnering with international organizations, businesses and governments alike, these African countries are legitimizing the use of AI within several sectors domestically.
Fostering A Pan-African Approach to AI
In 2019, African Ministers responsible for communication, and information and communication technologies adopted a continent-wide Declaration focusing on a collective and coordinated approach to AI. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 is assigned as a key enabler in promoting the ability of all African countries to achieve socio-economic goals and sustainable economic growth hinged on Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance ideals.
It is interesting to note some of the specific metrics on which countries are basing the key performance indicators in their respective AI development plans. South Africa wants to be fully integrated into an economy that uses technological innovation to revolutionize industrial processes and energy provision – one that will enhance food and water security and build smart human settlements. Senegal is building an “AI city” 35 kilometres from its capital. Benin Republic is also developing its first AI digital neighbourhood in Cotonou.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming a strategic priority for African countries, and the legitimization of the technology by states themselves is often hyped as an assured way for AI to gain the recognized adoption it needs to solve some of the continent’s most pressing challenges. AI, however, is not a silver bullet that will solve all of the continent’s problems. African states need to be critical of techno-heroic expectations from the use of AI and consider how the technology may infringe on the autonomy, transparency, and privacy of citizens; including how the use of AI may create job displacements, perpetuate inequality and negative systematic biases, and could also be used to hegemonize Africans. Beyond gaining normative emergence, Africa seems ambitious for a cascading of the technology in order to drive growth and support in the development of African societies.
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