AI in Africa faces hurdles: These 5 countries are leading the way

Development and deployment of artificial intelligence in Africa is hampered by lack of connectivity and other issues, but Mauritius, South Africa, Seychelles, Rwanda and Senegal are making artificial intelligence a priority.

artificial intelligence conceptual digital image

While AI development in sub-Saharan Africa is hampered by poor infrastructure, lack of skills and regulatory confusion, a handful of countries in the region — spurred by the demand for economic development and recently, by the need to combat COVID-19 — are laying the groundwork for innovation in the technology,

Perceptions of Africa as lagging technologically have been highlighted once again, this time by the recent release of the 2020 Government AI Readiness Index published by UK-based Oxford Insights. Only Mauritius, South Africa, Seychelles, Rwanda and Senegal make it into the ranking, and the report paints a gloomy picture of Africa  "playing catch up in the area of artificial intelligence due to poor technological development, lack of infrastructure and a labour force that is not critical and innovative."

While AI is widely seen as key to  innovation, there are varying levels of confidence in the ability to widely deploy the technology in certain areas of the continent. The five countries highlighted by Oxford Insights are taking different approaches in their efforts.

Getting it right, though, is not easy. Karthik Venkataraman, head of AI, Data and Intelligent Automation for Accenture in Africa, cautions that the businesses which have typically derived optimal value from AI are those that are digital by design, companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google. "For most other businesses though, the use of AI at an enterprise scale remains an aspirational topic," he wrote in a recent Accenture report. Helping African businesses make this move requires savvy support from both industry and government.

Mauritius makes AI a national priority

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