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African countries bracing for AI adoption amid glaring challenges: report

While artificial intelligence (AI) continues its remarkable climb worldwide, several African countries are throwing their hats in the ring to incorporate the emerging technology into their economies.

Oxford Insights Government AI Readiness Index report measures the efforts of 193 countries in their attempts at integrating AI and machine learning. According to the report, African nations are at the bottom of the pile, ranking low across all 39 indicators in the index when compared to other regions.

Despite their low ranking status, it notes that African countries could make a steady climb up the rankings in the coming years, with the last 12 months yielding a range of positives. The last 12 months saw the trio of Senegal, Benin and Rwanda introduce national AI strategies to join Mauritius as the only countries with a national AI blueprint.

There are reports that the number of countries with AI strategies could double before the end of the year, with at least four nations scrambling their blueprints to embrace AI. The nations are receiving guidance from UNESCO for regulatory direction and are on course to adopt the UN agency’s Recommendation on the Ethics of AI.

“As Rwanda and Senegal’s new strategies illustrate, international organisations can be influential in supporting African nations to create their own national AI strategies,” read the report.

For now, the index places Mauritius as the leading African country with a cumulative score of 53.27, closely followed by Rwanda and Benin in second and third place, respectively. Despite being placed lower, South Africa leads the continent by a country mile in the Data and Infrastructure pillar.

Nigeria ranks in fourth place despite the absence of a robust AI framework but multiple reports suggest that the country is moving toward a comprehensive rule book. In late 2023, the Nigerian government announced a search for AI researchers of Nigerian descent to join the talks for an AI strategy, going on to pursue partnerships with the United States.

“As an innovation leader on the African continent, Nigeria needs to develop a national strategy to harness the power of Al for sustainable development,” said the Minister of Communications Bosun Tijani.

A collaborative effort

Rather than build in silos, African countries are turning to regional collaborations in the design of national frameworks and legislative directions. A bird’s eye view reveals that several nations are waiting on the lead of the African Union (AU) for continental direction while others are seizing the initiative with emerging technologies.

Down south, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, and Botswana are looking for ideas for AI regulation, leading to the Windhoek Statement for regional direction. Similar trends have been identified in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa as the continent seeks to close the closing gap between it and other regions.

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Watch: Tech redefines how things are done—Africa is here for it

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