Is Africa ready for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in today’s world?


Advances in technology have modified the way people work. AI is everywhere, and machine thinking is now in our homes, offices, schools and hospitals. Computer algorithms are driving cars, diagnosing patients at hospitals and telling us what to read on our smartphones. The question to confront is: Is Africa ready for artificial intelligence in today’s world?

Yes. More than five decades ago, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah stirringly called Africa to the promise of technology. Indeed, the clarion call echoed by Ghana’s most loved first president and outstanding African leader, Osagyefo Dr. Nkrumah, to African leaders and the African Union (AU) on the need to embrace science and technology as the lifeblood of our continent is as important today as it was a little over fifty (50) years ago.

Indeed, to a large extent Africa missed the first, second and third industrial revolutions, but I am confident that our continent will not miss the fourth and fifth.

With the rise of artificial intelligence, the future appears promising. However, several analysts have also raised concerns about the potential for job displacement.

Experts predict that AI could replace certain jobs or make them obsolete, leading to job losses and a need for employees to adapt and learn new skills. Therefore, we must strategically invest in the capacity of our human resources to rise to the occasion.

Although Artificial intelligence is the ability of machines to copy human intelligent behaviour, it cannot fully replace human intelligence. Artificial intelligence lacks some human qualities such as empathy, creativity and critical thinking. Human beings by nature possess unique cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence that are essential in many domains, including complex decision-making, social interactions and ethical considerations. Therefore, AI and human intelligence can work together synergistically to achieve a better outcome.

Artificial intelligence and big data technologies have penetrated many markets. Here are just a few examples:

In the education sector, for example, AI-based learning platforms like ChatGBT have gained popularity due to their ability to engage students conversationally. Students now have access to personalised learning; they can ask questions in a local vernacular, and the English tutor will support them. AI can automate grading, giving educators more time for other tasks.

In Agriculture

There is an AI mobile app that can recommend what type of fertiliser to use in crop farming, which is a game-changer for farmers – but many of them will still have to grapple with issues of connectivity and literacy.

Banking and finance

The AI chatbots used by some banks help with basic transactions or provide appropriate solutions to various consumer inquiries, such as account balance information. Bank customers can get 24/7 service from a Chabot or an AI-powered banker, and can expect to receive swift financial counsel based on their money history, risk tolerance and financial goals.

AI in transportation

AI technologies are used in transportation to manage traffic, predict flight delays and make ocean shipping safer and more efficient.

The Current State of AI in Africa

Africa has made significant strides in adopting AI technologies over recent years. Several countries, including South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, have established AI research centres and innovation hubs. These initiatives aim to foster collaboration, research and development in AI, with a focus on addressing local challenges and driving economic growth.

Furthermore, African governments have recognised the importance of AI and started implementing policies for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and strategies to support its integration. For instance, the African Union launched the ‘AI for Development Initiative’ to promote AI-driven solutions for sustainable development across the continent.

Challenges and Opportunities

While progress has been made on the continent, Africa still faces several challenges in fully harnessing the potential of AI. One significant obstacle is access to reliable Internet connectivity and affordable technology, which is limited in many parts of the continent.

Finally, despite these challenges, the continent is making significant progress in preparing for an AI-driven future.

 The writer is a Financial Data Analyst, ABI & Partners Consulting Ltd.

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