How African nations can avoid route to becoming data colony


Africa should prepare a workforce that can harness these large data sets that will be at our disposal. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Africa has been undergoing a digital revolution for a long time. Africa’s position is allowing it to leap from the traditional advancement cycles that previous regions have had to undergo.

It has meant that Africa has positioned itself uniquely to take advantage of all the new advancements that are coming up in technology. The continent is poised to harness the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to drive development, innovation, and prosperity.

However, there is a risk of Africa becoming a data colony owned by powerful entities, both national and private, that control the AI industry.

Data, often referred to as the new oil, is the lifeblood of AI systems. It fuels algorithms, enhances machine learning, and powers the AI technologies that are transforming industries worldwide.

Recognising this, African nations have begun crafting legislation to govern AI, seeking inspiration from the established legal frameworks of developed countries. While this may seem like a prudent move, it carries inherent risks.

Borrowing legislation from developed countries may inadvertently put African nations at risk of a lot of harm. While legislation from developed countries has its value in acting as a guide or reference for best practices, it can carry with it unforeseen consequences for those who blindly adopt it.

When it comes to AI there are two key forms of legislation to consider. Firstly, we have the default which is legislation around Artificial Intelligence and the second one (a far more complex one) is the required changes to pre-existing legislation.

The latter is a slippery slope where we must carefully understand the impact that AI has, can have, will have, and might have on a country and see where legislation needs to change.

Gone are the days where laws remain as old as time without change and everything must bend to their nature. Now, technology is pushing for amendments in laws and the introduction of new ones. To avoid becoming a data colony, Africa needs to do a few things right and early enough.

It needs to develop its own legislation, policies, frameworks, and regulations that encourage AI built by Africa for Africa.

This will protect Africa from becoming a net consumer of AI and allow for the preservation of its culture, language, art, and more.

AI carries a heavy infrastructure behind it and one where Africa has the potential to cement itself with real value. In Kenya, there are steps being taken with plans to make Kenya a fabricator of semiconductors.

Another opportunity for Kenya lies within its green energy production which accounts for more than 80 percent of the energy generated in Kenya, this green energy can be used to attract AI organisations to set up their large data centres in Kenya.

Beyond these data centres, Kenya and other African countries can begin to look at not just the extraction of the materials required to make semiconductors but also how to turn this raw material into a product of higher value.

Africa should prepare a workforce that can harness these large data sets that will be at our disposal.

The writer is the Co-founder of Everse Technology Africa.