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AI Africa

Digital Africa


The fourth industrial revolution is recreating the world through various disruptions that are seeping into the way we live, work and socialise. The technological buzz words such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation are the main mechanisms that will create new global social and work cultural norms. Global consulting firm Mckinsey estimates that 30% of the global workforce could be displaced by 2030 due to automation and digitisation. In a continent that is layered with a vast of challenges and opportunities the notion of the fourth industrial revolution comes with much uncertainty and anticipation.

Countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa and Egypt have become nests to the sprouting culture of technology start-ups and ventures which are exploring and navigating the integration of artificial intelligence in a local and cross border landscape.

AI in Africa

‘For African countries to make use of AI, they have to build an ecosystem of investors, start-up founders and have incubators to train workers and foster innovation’

Richa Bhatia – Analytics India Magazine

Numerous African countries have opened their borders to international investment focused on intensely industrializing various sectors and indirectly playing catch up to the industrialization success in East Asia.  Founder of research company Super Fluid Lab, Timothy Kotin points out that government officials in countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa have formulated major industrialization plans that don’t incorporate automation and artificial intelligence. Kotin highlight that’s ‘African governments should look to including AI and automation in building and creating a manufacturing ecosystem’.  The inclusion of AI by African governments in the growth of the manufacturing sector will enable industries to combat the expected 80% of jobs predicted to be automated within the manufacturing sector. As recorded by Mckinsey, developing countries will be hit the most by technology developments; 52% of jobs in Kenya, 46% in Nigeria and 41% of jobs in South Africa are anticipated to be automated.

However, this is not all doom and gloom, Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates that the fourth industrial revolution could increase the global GDP by US $15.7 trillion by 2030 with US $1.2 trillion contributed by Africa. The rise of events such as Indaba X, AI Africa Indaba, Data Science highlights the efforts of orgainsations developing a pan African approach to creating an African digital experience for different industries. While molding and grooming young talent to not only think of creating solutions for their communities but do to so with digital execution in mind.



On the other spectrum some countries are diversifying their economic offerings by building knowledge-based economies to complete with their successful industrial sector. Within an African context some countries have taken the latter by siding with one of the two options. Kenya is working on positioning itself to reap the benefits and opportunities of being known the as the technology hub in Africa.Rwanda is one of the African countries that aims to cultivate a globally competitive knowledge-based economy through its Rwanda Vision 2050 and the Seven Year Government Programme covering the time frame of 2017 – 2024.

In addition, other countries are taking on the partnership route for guidance. Currently China is leading with the use of AI surveillance, there is an estimated 170 million surveillance cameras in sixteen areas in China. The country is testing out its AI facial recognition system in Zimbabwe to assist the recognition system in identifying darker skinned people. In return Zimbabwe is looking to China to assist in cultivating the capacity and technological know-how by building one of the continents biggest IT hub that will function through the use of big data. This has already started stimulating events dedicated to the development of digital talent base. Tech hubs in Zimbabwe have established the Emisha City Hack for Bulawayo which selects teams to benefit from support and funding for the development of tech solutions to tackle challenges faced by the city. The success of such incentives would contribute to the country achieving its goal to formulating a middle-income economy by 2030.

Skills Development

Image credit:quantamagazine

Organisations are stepping in to provide digital literacy along with creating curriculums and courses that will provide the youth with digital know how for the future world of work. 2018 saw tech giants Facebook and Google partner with the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS) to develop a degree in Artificial Intelligence. The course is a one-year African Masters in Machine Intelligence (AMMI) which will be available at the Rwanda campus in Kigali.

Africa’s youth population is said to double by 2030, with an expected youth bulge and projected loss in jobs in industries such as agriculture and textiles due to automation. Organisations are setting the path in normalizing an education experience that produces qualified young people that can compete in the digital automated era of work. This ensuring that some young Africans will benefit from the 2.3million new jobs to be created through the use of AI as stated by The Garner.

‘Africa will have to lead in the disruption of education models of the past, that begins by investing in technology; making the internet widely accessible, cheaper and opening up digital eco-system so that people can train themselves and learn new things for the future’

Donald Kaberuka – Former African Development Bank President

Local businesses have woken to the impact of digital disruption and the importance of having an adapt or disrupt methodology . Entertainment company MultiChoice is developing a workforce that can work within the integration of AI within the workplace. The company has partnered with the University of Pretoria to develop and sustain AI, machine learning skills in South Africa. MultiChoice has sponsored a research chair of machine learning at the university. The chair will assist MultiChoice in growing its talent pool in engineering and help in building the company’s digital future.

Andela is one of the companies at the forefront of up skilling Africans for the digital world of work. Launched in 2014, the company assists global companies ‘ overcome the shortage of skilled software developers through  investing in technical minds from the continent’. Andela holds a creditable success record as noted with the hiring and development of more than 700 software engineers across Africa who have formed part of technology teams for tech giants Safaricom, Viacom and Github. In 2018 Andela partnered with the Rwandan government through its Rwanda Development Board to establish a pan- African workforce that will hold a good standing aboard. This will be achieved through Andela’s distribution model that will enable developers to gain global experience with some of the top tech giants while working on the set curriculum at the Kigali campus. The technology campus is set to open in December 2018.

Google Investment

As one of the companies steering society into an intensely connected world Google is branching out its talent scouting to the African continent. As a first in Africa, Google plans on opening its AI research center in Accra, Ghana. This is in conjunction with the company’s Launchpad Accelerator Africa which caters to 100 000 developers and over 60 start-ups. The AI Laboratory research center will focus on using AI applications in resolving and producing innovative solutions in sectors such as education, healthcare and agriculture.

Global Challenge

Africa is positioned as the treasure chest of the future, with an emerging youth bulge, the development of strong economies and growth of the mobile connected consumer this is a small illustration to the bubbling innovation over flowing from this continent. However, in the same frame Africa is marred with some of the biggest global challenges. This sets out various opportunities to solution-based innovations. The use of solution-based AI in Africa could assist in tackling some of the biggest challenges faced globally. Organisations are testing out some of their innovations in certain strained countries faced with tough epidemics. The World Bank has partnered with Amazon, Google and Microsoft to create a digital system called Artemis which will scan through data from satellites, food prices, weather records, social media and analyse the information for signs of potential food crisis.

President of the World Bank Jim Yong King believes that: ‘AI could end famine by spotting a developing crisis before it begins’. The aim of this initiative is to prevent famine by noting the warring signs and responding before the situation escalades. Traditionally the United Nations declares famine within a country when the situation reaches the UN’s defined 5th stage crisis. It is only then that aid and money is sent to the country. Artemis would be able to note the signs of a potential crisis before the situation reaches level one on the metric methodology used by the UN to determine the gravity of a crisis in a country.  The system would be linked to a funding mechanism which would automatically release financial relief aid once a prescribed threshold has been met. The beta phase of the system is said to be trialed in Nigeria, Mali, Chad and Somalia in 2019.

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