Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming different sectors across the globe, and Africa is no exception.
With the increasing availability of data and technological advancements, AI is now being applied in various sectors in Africa to drive innovation, increase efficiency and productivity, and solve complex challenges. The application of AI in Africa is growing, and its impact is expected to be significant in the coming years.
Global Voice Group (GVG) CEO James Claude, speaking during a roundtable on Technology and Big Data earlier in March this year noted that "There has been a lot of progress made in the last decade in the use of ICT services by governments to better service delivery to its people. In as much as it is still in the initial stages, the increasing availability of data provides limitless opportunities to develop and implement AI solutions that can transform further how businesses and governments operate." One area where AI is being applied in Africa is in the procurement sector, where AI-powered systems are used to enhance transparency and accountability in governance. The systems are used to detect and prevent corruption, fraud, and other forms of malfeasance in government operations.
For example, in Kenya, the government is using an AI-powered system called 'E-procurement' to automate the procurement process and detect any fraudulent activities in the procurement process. This has led to significant savings in procurement costs and reduced corruption in government operations.
AI is also being applied in other sectors, including finance, education, and transportation. AI-powered systems are being used to automate financial processes, develop personalized learning plans for students, and optimize transportation routes. This has led to increased efficiency, improved customer experiences, and reduced costs.
Mr. Claude added, " AI has the potential to transform various sectors in Africa, enabling businesses and governments to operate more efficiently and effectively."
Mr. Claude further noted that "Governments need to embrace technology and big data making sure they leverage insights and analytics. This can drive sustainable economic growth and improve the lives of people across the continent.”
Another key area in which AI is being applied is in the area of public service delivery. AI-powered systems are being used to streamline and automate service delivery, making it more efficient and reducing the cost-of-service provision. For example, in Rwanda, the government is using AI-powered chatbots to provide citizens with information on public services, such as how to access healthcare, education, and business services. This has greatly enhanced access to public services and reduced the time and cost of service provision.
AI has also been applied to enhance citizen engagement. AI-powered systems are being used to collect and analyze citizen feedback, opinions, and concerns, and provide feedback to government officials.
This has enabled governments to better understand citizens' needs and preferences, and to respond more effectively to their concerns.
For example, in Ghana, an AI-powered platform called 'Ghana Open Data Initiative' is being used to collect citizen feedback on government policies and programs and provide feedback to government officials.
G.K Ndung’u, a Public Policy Analyst notes that " There is a lot of uptake in Government using data and analytics to streamline delivery of government services. One is now able, for instance, to digitally produce a birth certificate or a loved one’s death certificate. With the right investments, engagement, and social accountability in Govtech, service delivery in Africa can be transformed driving economic growth."
However, there are also challenges associated with the application of AI in Africa. One of the main challenges is the lack of data and the need to develop data infrastructure.
Another challenge is the need for creation and implementation of a harmonized data protection law that governs AI in Africa.
Mugambi Laibuta, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and Data Privacy specialist notes that, "There is a need for harmonization of data protection laws in Africa. As we speak, there are over 33 different data protection laws in Africa which make it difficult for people who operate in different countries to partake in their duties. The data protection laws need to be harmonized so as to avoid the scenario of having to adjust to different compliance mechanisms.”
Another concern is the potential for bias and discrimination in AI systems. There is a risk that AI systems may perpetuate existing biases and discrimination against certain groups, such as women, minorities, and marginalized communities. Governments need to ensure that AI systems are developed and implemented in a way that is fair and non-discriminatory.
Mugambi Laibuta notes that " As AI can raise ethical concerns, such as the potential for bias and discrimination, Governments and businesses must ensure that AI is developed and implemented in a way that is fair, transparent, and accountable. They must also ensure that data is collected and used in a way that protects people's privacy.
One way in which one can partake in addressing an ethical and privacy issue is by formally raising a complaint through the Data Protection Authority of the country they are in to ensure that the matter is followed up. If there is no data protection authority in one’s country, one can then go ahead and use provisions relating to dignity, non-discrimination, and equality in the constitution."
In conclusion, the application of AI in Africa is growing, and its impact is expected to be significant in the coming years.
AI has the potential to revolutionize industries across Africa and drive economic growth. However, there is a need to address challenges associated with the application of AI, including the lack of data and ethical and privacy concerns. With the right investments and policies, AI can help transform Africa and drive sustainable development.