UNESCO launches Artificial Intelligence Needs Assessment Survey in Africa

UNESCO’s operational strategy for Priority Africa recognizes the importance of knowledge for the sustainable socio-economic development of Africa and of capacity building in the field of ICT. UNESCO launched the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Needs Assessment Survey in Africa and organized a dialogue with African countries to reflect on the findings and the survey’s recommendations.
Artificial Intelligence presents a leapfrog potential for development in Africa, notwithstanding that these technologies are currently developed for and by companies, universities and governments outside of the continent. Countries can use AI and other digital technologies to catalyze their innovation ecosystems and accelerate sustainable development. Mr Xing Qu, UNESCO’s Deputy Director-General and Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information a.i., underlined the Organization’s ongoing efforts to support African countries to harness AI for their national development priorities. Stressing the significance of the publication, he noted, “its findings will help guide our discussions today on how Artificial Intelligence can be mobilized for the social good”.

The survey highlights the need to strengthen policy, legal and regulatory knowledge for AI governance in Africa. H.E. Mr Albertus Aochamub, Ambassador of Namibia, pointed out that the survey had captured the gaps in policy formulation across different domains like data protection, education and skills for AI among others. He added that “at this day there is no policy that governs AI in Namibia other than the 2007 Telecommunication Act”. He underlined that a challenge that needs urgent attention to strengthen “access to infrastructure at affordable for most”. Only 51% of the population has access to the internet in Namibia.

The survey notes that as AI policies are developed across Africa, countries will benefit from greater coordination and expertise to address similar and shared challenges. In this regard, Mr Firmin Edouard Matoko, Assistant Director-General for Priority Africa and External Relations, who moderated discussions, noted how UNESCO facilitates knowledge exchange among policymakers and other stakeholders in Africa through the organization of several regional fora on Artificial Intelligence.

More than half the countries that responded to the survey identified gender equality related concerns with the use of AI as a priority.