Africa is lagging in its readiness to adopt Artificial Intelligence (AI), according to the 2020 Government AI Readiness Index published by UK-based Oxford Insights. Nonetheless, the Index indicates that African countries are relatively better prepared in the data and infrastructure pillar, followed by the government pillar and then the technology sector pillar.
Within these pillars, countries have or are building more capacity in telecommunications and other infrastructures needed to support AI, and in the availability of representative AI training data, according to the Index.
The Index also found that African nations have less capacity concerning the size of the technology sector, the business environment and the existence of a skilled AI workforce. There is also limited preparation of appropriate regulatory and ethical frameworks, and governments themselves generally have low use of ICTs and low responsiveness to change.
In all, 34 countries were assessed — the top 20 countries in the main index and the rest categorized as regional leaders or rising stars. The United States of America comes top of this year’s Index, with the rest of the top five places going to Western European nations (the UK, Finland, Germany and Sweden), reflecting the fact that North America and Western Europe are the highest-scoring regions overall, the report said.
According to Sub-Saharan AI expert Araba Sey, Africa is playing catch up in the area of artificial intelligence due to poor technological development, lack of infrastructure and a labor force that is not critical and innovative.
Despite these challenges, the Index described the following as rising stars in Africa’s AI readiness.
Mauritius is the only African country to publish an AI strategy. Released in 2018, the strategy looks at ways AI can support its Ocean Economy, such as investment in the maritime Internet of Things and the establishment of an AI Council to advise the government on supporting Mauritius’ AI ecosystem. The country’s AI strategy also includes improving public transport. Mauritius also has a strategy to position itself as a regional leader in terms of ICT with a particular focus on digital government.
Unlike Mauritius, South Africa does not have an AI strategy, but there is some evidence that the government is considering how best to govern and use AI, the report said. In 2019, the South African government formed the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution which includes experts in AI and other emerging technologies. The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution aims to develop policies and governance frameworks that will allow South Africa to use AI responsibly.
Senegal does have a digital strategy but suffers from a lack of a coherent policy framework for innovation in general or AI specifically, according to the report. The Digital Senegal 2025 Strategy aims to foster a dynamic and innovative technology ecosystem. In 2019, Senegal opened an AI programming school at the Dakar Institute of Technology and also hosted the first-ever African ‘Digital Women’s Day’, showcasing tech innovations by women.
The Government AI Readiness Index identified the lack of a skilled workforce as one of the challenges for the adoption of AI technologies in Africa. According to the report, in situations where the talents exist, they face numerous obstacles such as low visibility within the global community of AI researchers and entrepreneurs.
A study of the economic impact of artificial intelligence on the world’s economy by 2030 by PwC found that AI could increase global GDP by 14% (approx $115.7 trillion) making it the biggest commercial opportunity in the global economy.
The report also estimates that the technology could increase the GDP of Africa, Oceania and other Asian markets by 5.6%, which is about $11.2 trillion.
In effect, Mauritius, South Africa, Seychelles, Rwanda and Senegal are the highest-ranked African countries. The result is not surprising as it confirms other studies that show that the continent is not technologically advanced.