African Ministers Endorses Continental Artificial Intelligence Strategy

ICT Ministers endorsed a landmark Continental Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy, along with an African Digital Compact, to boost Africa’s digital transformation by unlocking the potential of new technologies.

The drafts were endorsed at the second extraordinary session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Communication and ICT which convened more than 130 African ICT ministers and experts virtually from June 11 to 13, 2024.

The African Union says the strategy provides guidance to the continent to harness artificial intelligence to meet their development aspirations and the well-being of their citizens, while promoting ethical use, minimizing potential risks, and leveraging opportunities.

The strategy identifies key priorities and actions to ensure that Africa fully benefits from the huge opportunities AI offers.

It also calls for an Africa-owned, people-centered, development-oriented, and inclusive approach to accelerate African countries’ AI capabilities in infrastructure, talent, datasets, innovation, and partnerships while also ensuring adequate safeguards and protection from threats.

AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy Amani Abou-Zeid commended the endorsement of the strategy as a timely and strategic move stressing “adapting AI to African realities is critical.”

The Comissioner said:

“AI systems should be able to reflect our diversity, languages, culture, history, and geographical contexts.

As we aim to create an inclusive AI ecosystem and a competitive African AI market that is adapted to our realities and meets our ambitions, we believe examining and approving this strategy will provide a common vision and path to accelerate responsible AI innovation and adoption in Africa.”

The Strategy sets the roadmap for states to harness AI’s potential benefits in education and skills, health, agriculture, infrastructure, peace and security and good governance by developing human capital, strengthening research and innovation ecosystems, and building an AI-ready institutional and regulatory environment to ensure AI works for African people.

By investing in African youth, innovators, computer scientists, data experts, and AI researchers, the strategy would pave the way for Africa’s success in the global AI arena, the AU says.

‘African Digital Compact’ Gets Endorsed

The ministerial committee also endorsed the African Digital Compact at the same session.

The Compact, AU says, is Africa’s common vision and one voice that charts Africa’s digital future and harnesses the transformative potential of digital technologies to foster economic growth and societal well-being throughout the continent.

Commissioner Abou-Zeid lauded the Compact as a remarkable initiative that will position Africa at the forefront of the global digital economy, not just as a consumer but also as innovator and producer.

Creating a strong pool of talents, and enhancing public private partnerships are deemed critical to promote homegrown digital solutions, she added.

Both, the Continental AI strategy and Africa’s Digital Compact, constitute Africa’s contribution to the Global Digital Compact and the United Nations Summit of the Future in September 2024.

Chair of the Bureau of the technical committee and Information Technology Minister of Lesotho Nthati Moorsi emphasized that unique challenges and contexts of Africa must be taken into consideration in the global discourse around digital technologies.

Moorsi underscored that:

“Our position must advocate for our capability to develop our own electronic technologies and equitable access to these critical resources. Additionally, we must ensure that when the global community addresses the artificial intelligence alignment problem, the unique needs and contexts of Africa are considered.”

The ministers, at the end of their meeting, mandated the African Union to organize a level Continental African Artificial Intelligence Summit to foster collaboration, knowledge exchange, and strategic planning among stakeholders across the continent.

The Continental AI strategy and Africa’s Digital Compact are also expected to be submitted to the African Union Executive Council in July 2024, for consideration and adoption, the AU says.

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