How artificial intelligence can transform Africa

How artificial intelligence can transform Africa


Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the world, and Africa could be an excellent beneficiary of this technology. AI is significantly relevant for Africa because it addresses some of the continent’s challenges, like poverty, infrastructural deficiency, and the banking industry. AI can help to develop or improve agricultural technologies to increase crop yields, soil fertility, food security, and food transformation. AI can also be used in the fight against climate change by developing adaption mechanisms.


As Africa moves towards industrial development and seeks to increase its manufacturing capabilities, African governments and industry must adopt AI to enhance efficient task automation, data analysis, decision making, etc. Using AI positively can help Africa improve customer services, ease job performances, and reimagine the future.


AI is rising in Africa.

According to Abdessalam Jaldi, while fintech is often associated with Africa’s tech boom, the largest tech acquisition in the continent in recent years was AI-focused. AI tech is growing rapidly in Africa, with over 2,400 companies specializing in AI, 41% of which are startups. However, African governments must finance these companies because they must play a vital role in the continent’s development.


AI is a critical first step to addressing Africa’s infrastructure gap. AI will provide policymakers with high-quality information and help them with informed decisions on development choices, the location of particular infrastructure, and the periods to invest in such development choices. African governments should subsidize AI and tech companies instead of focusing on regulation and neglecting to fund startups.


Challenges with AI

African governments must address the challenges that come with AI. Like the internet, which is decentralized and evolving rapidly, some of its challenges will only be perceived when they occur. In this regard, it is difficult to foresee some of the challenges linked to AI. However, there are significant challenges that are manageable and foreseeable.


Threats to fundamental freedoms and rights

The growing use of AI technologies threatens the right to privacy and other related civic freedoms, such as the right to free assembly, association, and expression. AI systems are already being used to restrict the exercise of these fundamental human rights due to a lack of strong safeguards in laws, regulations, and policies. Without strong standards and protections, these restrictions are likely to worsen.


Algorithms used to moderate content

Because the internet is decentralized, content shared online may violate the laws of one country but not another. As a result, governments often regulate internet service providers and require them to moderate content. On its face, content moderation is strain on the freedom of speech and expression. However, speech detected as hate or incitement to violence or misinformation is generally moderated and taken off the internet or given low visibility and outreach.


Considering the high volume of information distributed online, human beings can’t moderate such content and adopt algorithms or some form of computer code to identify speech of particular interest that requires moderation. To solve this problem, online service providers use AI tools to automatically collect and analyze texts, images, videos, speech, etc, into pre-defined categories.


Shadow banning or online censorship

AI content moderation poses the same risk of bias and discrimination as newspaper censorship. In countries with high censorship of journalists or discrimination against human rights actors, governments and industry can intentionally write algorithms to shadow-ban content from specific individuals. Shadow banning blocks journalists and human rights defenders without their knowledge, making their posts and comments unavailable to others.


Surveillance and facial recognition

Governments can hire companies to create facial recognition databases for law enforcement and crime prevention. UK police say facial recognition can help them quickly and accurately identify criminals and missing people, freeing up time and resources for other tasks. Facial recognition technology poses a risk to journalists and human rights defenders, especially in countries with high press censorship, by enabling surveillance and monitoring without their knowledge.


Since facial recognition technology can misidentify people who look similar, the misidentification and surveillance of a journalist or human rights defender could lead to the targeting of an innocent person. Innocent here does not denote that journalists or human rights defenders are guilty of some crime, but their jobs, to a certain extent, are risky.


Need to regulate AI

Like all tools that impact human beings and their interactions with one another, AI is both a risk factor and a blessing if properly used. If properly regulated, AI can accelerate innovation, industry and manufacturing in Africa. As such, African governments must enact forward-looking laws that address the risks of AI. Such laws could consider the determination of languages used to write the underlying codes, audit AI processes, and review their impacts on the community.


As Alexandra Givens testified to the United States Congress in October 2023, developing new methods for evaluating and testing AI systems and their impacts is essential to ensure that the use of AI is safe and ethical. While encouraging AI in industry, manufacturing, healthcare, etc., there is a need to mitigate the risks that AI poses to people’s rights, safety, and the environment. With the right action and investment from Congress, the United States can lead the world in developing AI standards and methods.




AI presents an excellent opportunity for African governments to plan for the future with some degree of certainty by collecting large volumes of data and analyzing them in real-time. AI can transform the most critical challenges facing Africa, like poverty, infrastructure, and climate change. African governments must invest in AI and enact forward-looking laws that address AI and technology in general.


Recommendations for African governments:

  • AI companies can significantly transform the continent if they have the financial support to research and propose innovative solutions to African problems.
  • AI and technology are rapidly advancing and require appropriate legal frameworks that can foresee problems. Legislating on AI does not require copying from other jurisdictions but dedicating resources to invest in research and adapt regulation to local realities.
  • A key component in regulating AI is protecting human rights and ensuring human dignity. Africans must consider that technology and development serve human beings. In this regard, regulations must protect fundamental human rights and freedoms and not expose them to risks presented by AI and technology.


1 thought on “How artificial intelligence can transform Africa”

  1. Great eye opener for our African leaders. This topic is timely and I hope that it reaches the right quarters.
    However, I’m not comfortable with the fact that the writer sees African countries at the same level. I believe that this article can make more sense if more advanced African countries can be highlighted, showing how they’re already taking these recommendations into consideration, so that those lagging behind can at least feel more concerned and follow suite.

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