African Ministers Adopt Landmark AI Strategy, Digital Compact to Boost Development and Inclusive Growth

Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy

African Ministers of ICT and Communications have adopted a landmark continental Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy, and the African Digital Compact to drive the continent’s development and inclusive growth. Both initiatives are anchored in the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy (2020-2030) and Agenda 2063.

More than 130 African ministers of ICT and Communications as well as technology experts convened virtually from June 11 to 13, 2024, for the 2nd Extraordinary session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Communication and ICT to ignite digital transformation across the continent amidst the rapid evolutions in the sector fuelled by AI technology and applications.

The adopted AI Strategy provides guidance to African countries to harness Artificial Intelligence to meet the continent’s development aspirations and the well-being of its people, while promoting ethical use, minimising potential risks, and leveraging opportunities. 

It identified key priorities and actions to ensure that Africa benefits fully from the huge potentials that AI offers and calls for 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.

Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, in his opening remarks stated that Africa is resolved to harness new technologies for the well-being of Africans and to develop a Continent-wide approach and a harmonised journey for this revolutionary technology to tackle Africa’s complex and most pressing challenges while minimizing the risks. She said: “For us Africans, Artificial Intelligence presents tremendous opportunities. It is a driving force for positive transformational positive change as well as economic growth and social progress.”

Commending the endorsement of the strategy as a timely and strategic move, Commissioner Abou-Zeid emphasized that “Adapting AI to African realities is critical. 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”. 

H.E. Ms. Nthati Moorosi, the Minister of Information, Communications, Science Technology, and Innovation of the Kingdom of Lesotho, and Chair of the Bureau of the technical committee, emphasised the huge opportunities that stem from the adoption of AI-enabled systems to promote homegrown solutions to stimulate economic growth and sustainable development towards achieving the priorities outlined in the AU Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The ministerial committee also endorsed the African Digital Compact, which is Africa’s common vision and one voice that charts Africa’s digital future and harnesses the transformative potential of digital technologies to foster sustainable development, economic growth, and societal well-being throughout Africa.

Commissioner Abou-Zeid explained that the Compact is Africa’s strategic commitment to utilizing digital transformation as a catalyst for inclusive progress and sustainable development in Africa. She 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, adding that creating strong pool of talents, and enhancing public private partnerships are deemed critical to promote homegrown digital solutions.

During discussions, the ministers highlighted the importance of propelling Africa’s role in shaping global digital governance and insisted on the importance of capacity building and knowledge transfer to empower Africa’s youth, private sector and institutions to ensure their participation in the digital economy through initiatives focused on enabling ecosystems, digital education, skills development, and job reassignment.

At the closing of the Ministerial meeting the ministers mandated the African Union to organize an African Continental level Artificial Intelligence Summit to foster collaboration, knowledge exchange, and strategic planning among stakeholders across the continent.

The initiatives were developed through consultations with a wide array of stakeholders and constitute Africa’s contribution to the Global Digital Compact and the United Nations Summit of the Future in September 2024. They are expected to be submitted to the African Union Executive Council in July 2024, for consideration and adoption.

The Continental AI Strategy and the African Digital Compact build on other continental digital policies, strategies, and frameworks such as the data policy, personal data protection cybersecurity, child protection frameworks targeted at fostering digital technologies in all sectors and realizing Africa’s long-term development aspirations.