Africa, when viewed from outside the continent often shows poverty, health problems, infrastructure decay, unemployment and a myriad of other problems. Although this is not necessarily the entire picture. When the developed world is viewed through the same lens, it is seen as a flourishing place driven largely by technology. And while the same technologies are required to drive growth in Africa, they have been largely non-existent.
But in recent years, growing enthusiasm in technology on the continent, particularly among the youth, is bringing technology closer to places they are needed. However, the gap to be filled remains wide, largely on account of limited investments, infrastructure and policies to drive growth. Africa, hosting its first GITEX summit, and also the first to be held outside Dubai in 42 years, is showing the continent may finally get some of the attention it direly needs.
When Babajide Sanwo-olu, Governor of Lagos State, gave a keynote at the GITEX Africa Digital Summit, he explained how Africa is on the fast-track to become the next Silicon Valley. He had stressed the importance of investing in African youth, which makes up over 60 percent of the continent’s population, while noting that, according to studies, around 30 percent of investment in Africa is dedicated to the digital economy.
With the right investments and policies, AI can help Africa to achieve its development goals and improve the lives of its people
Lagos, where he presides, he said is already home to some of Africa’s largest data centres, while the state’s Start-Up Act 2022 and Knowledge, Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (KITE) Project in the Yaba suburb are propelling Lagos, and Nigeria into a hub of global innovation.
“The Yaba Start-Up policy will elevate Lagos as a city ready to become a global player,” said Sanwo-olu. “In a few years, not only will Africa be supplying the bulk of professionals required (in the global IT industry) but it will also be creating a lot of jobs.
Africa’s rising status as a global leader in digital transformation was reiterated during the summit, as tech leaders from across the continent and the world gathered to collaborate and pledged commitments to accelerating cross-continent investment opportunities. Artificial Intelligence (AI), the latest buzzword in the tech world was also a focus, especially as it pertains to utilisation in solving African problems. The rise of AI and its potential impact on African business, society, and culture saw experts from across the globe debating and advancing this new technology.
Opinions are divided on AI when it comes to potential negative consequences, as much as it is a force for positive impact. What experts make clear, however, is that AI is on track to be the next big global technology shift. In Africa, it has the ability to transform the way businesses are run and societies function. More importantly, according to Mustapha Zaouini, the Chairman of AI in Africa, the continent is now exploring AI to solve pressing issues including poverty, unemployment, and inequality.
“While Africa has unique challenges, such as disparity in internet access, it’s steadily embracing AI,” said Zaouni, during a panel discussion on ‘Responsible Generative AI’.
“Readiness varies across countries, and there’s a need to invest in infrastructure, education, and policy-making to fully harness AI. Ensuring equitable access to technology and bridging the digital divide are crucial steps to prepare for AI’s impact in Africa,” he said.
Simon See, the global head of Nvidia AI Technology Centre in Singapore, said with the right investments and policies, AI can help Africa to achieve its development goals and improve the lives of its people.
“In Africa, the demand for AI skills is expected to grow by 36 percent between 2020 and 2025,” said See, whose American-headquartered Nvidia makes specialist AI chips, with a market value that briefly surpassed US$1 trillion last week.
“This growth is driven by the continent’s young population, as well as its investments in start-ups and innovation. The growth of AI is creating new jobs in Africa, as companies look to hire experts to help them develop and implement AI-powered products and services.”
AI and its far-reaching multisectoral impact were evident on the exhibition floor, with many exhibitors showcasing how the AI boom is turbocharging waves of innovation across industries, from education and agriculture, to transport, retail, energy, or logistics.
An example is BetaLife, a Nigerian start-up that is carving a niche to solve problems in the healthcare sector. The cloud-based AI-powered platform connects hospitals and blood banks using advanced algorithms, ensuring the efficient flow of lifesaving blood products to patients in need.
Mubarak Ayanniyi, BetaLife’s founder and CEO, said the platform’s greatest advantage is its ability to analyse copious data via an AI-powered algorithm that accurately predicts when, where, and in what amounts blood donations are required, thereby directing resources and allocating donations when needed, ultimately saving countless lives.
“BetaLife has revolutionised the way that blood donations are managed in Africa”, said Ayanniyi. “Instead of relying on manual processes, hospitals and blood banks are now using BetaLife to predict when and where blood donations are needed most. This has led to more efficient distribution of blood products, reducing waste and ensuring that those who need it most receive the lifesaving treatment they require.”
See, from Nvidia’s AI Technology Centre, said Africa is still in the early stages of AI adoption, but there’s a growing interest in the technology across the continent: “Several African countries have developed national AI strategies, and there’re a number of start-ups and research institutions working on AI-related projects,” he said.
Adel Alsharji, the COO of Presight, a UAE-based AI-powered big data analytics company, said Africa is the second-fastest growing region globally in AI adoption. “Africa’s AI journey is gaining momentum, and this progress highlights the continent’s readiness to explore and harness the potential of AI for driving economic growth and addressing local challenges, ultimately benefiting the greater good of its people,” said Alsharji, adding that demand for AI-related jobs will increase two-fold over the next three years.
“A study by McKinsey Global Institute predicts that AI could add US$13 trillion to the global economy by 2030, while the number of AI-related jobs in Africa alone is expected to grow by 200 percent by 2025,” Alsharji said.
Zaouini, whose AI in Africa is a non-profit organisation aimed at empowering African youth for an inclusive AI future, said the technology should be seen as a tool to leapfrog traditional stages of development while elevating African talent to the forefront of a new global workforce.
“The African societal impact of AI is immense, as it revolutionises the way we work and live,” he said.
Meanwhile, it was noted that Africa’s flourishing fintech sector is estimated to reach revenues of $65 billion by 2030, growing at the world’s fastest rate at 13 times over the next seven years.
This, it was said at one of the sessions during the summit, presents a unique opportunity for the continent to leapfrog outdated stages of technological development and move straight to more advanced solutions.
Khalid Elgibaly, President of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Mastercard, said, “Fintechs, with their disruptive and inclusive nature, have emerged as powerful enablers of financial services for previously underserved populations, overcoming traditional barriers such as limited access to banking infrastructure.” By promoting collaboration and knowledge sharing among stakeholders, GITEX Africa, he said, unlocks new opportunities and drives the digital transformation necessary to address the continent’s unique challenges while unlocking its vast potential.