Mauritius, Egypt and South Africa have emerged as the top three African countries to embrace AI at an inconceivable pace over the last four to five years.
According to the Government AI Index Report (2022) from Oxford Insights, among 172 countries worldwide, Mauritius has gained an AI index of 53.38 (45th position) and is a leader in the sub-Saharan region, followed closely by Egypt at 49.42 (56th position) and South Africa at 47.74 (59th position). The readiness is based on the assessment of three basic pillars: Governance, the Technology Sector, and Data and Infrastructure.
Mauritius and AI
Mauritius has a population of about 1.26 million, with an upper-middle income economy.
The government is using AI as a driver for development. The country’s strength in AI comes from the Governance pillar, and it is the only nation that has published a national strategy for AI. The strategy is based on four core principles, which encompass new and existing AI applications, building the ecosystem for nurturing the communities, addressing skills and labor needs and defining regulatory frameworks to develop AI.
Notable sectors under focus are manufacturing, health care, fintech, sustainability and transportation.
By 2030, Mauritius’ economy is expected to be significantly influenced by AI — up to 10% of the overall GDP (valued at $11.5 billion as of 2021).
The Bank of Mauritius has launched a regulatory sandbox to promote the development of fintech solutions incorporating AI, including products and services that supplement customer service activities (such as chatbots) and fraud risk management. In health care, the government has initiated projects involving AI systems that have been developed to analyze data and propose treatment plans for patients, particularly in rural areas. In transportation, real-time traffic management systems are being developed to help protect the communities.
The government has launched several initiatives to promote AI start-ups in the country. One such is the Smart City Scheme, which incentivizes businesses to provide innovative products and services to improve the economic conditions of Mauritian people of mixed socio-economic statuses.
Egypt and AI
Egypt is a country with a population of 110.9 million, and the national strategy for Artificial Intelligence in Egypt is based on three areas of focus: education and training, leveraging data, and making that data available to the private sector.
The Egyptian government is seeking to strengthen its efforts to ensure universal access to broadband services and to give people the skills and resources they need to participate fully in the digital economy. The cornerstone of Egypt’s AI strategy is the capacity-building pillar that enables the growth of the labor market in AI. This involves training and redistribution of skills to avoid layoffs and negative social responses as a result of replacing jobs with AI.
With international conversations taking center stage towards building a “responsible AI” ecosystem, Egypt has proposed two working groups with the African Union and Arab League, to unify regional voices and contribute to these international discussions with shared priorities.
Pilot programs have been initiated in phases over a period of three years to supply secondary school children with the tools and resources needed to help them succeed. So-called “Innovation Hubs,” such as those in Minia and Qena in Upper Egypt, are targeted to equip the students better as they prepare to get into the workforce. For students in universities and colleges, there are programs introduced in partnership with international universities.
More than half of Egypt’s population is under the age of 30. This demographic creates a vast pool of potential young technology talent, with numerous start-ups fueling the economy at a larger scale. AI takes about 5% of the overall startup ecosystem, with approximately 300,000 young people graduating into the workforce every year.
The contribution of AI to Egypt’s GDP is expected to reach about 10% by 2030.
South Africa and AI
South Africa, with a population of 59 million, has a highly developed economy and an advanced infrastructure.
The only country in the region with both access to 5G telecom networks and key cloud providers, this country has an impressive foundation to help its people reap the benefits of AI technologies.
Responsible AI is being looked into more closely with the help of the South African Artificial Intelligence Association, an industry body focused on promoting the advancement of responsible AI, with a close partnership with the Tshwane University of Technology.
Key challenges for the adoption of this technology are the lack of skilled workers and the lack of data infrastructure in rural areas, as enabling mobile access to a greater population becomes necessary to adopt this technology.
More than 50% of the population lacked internet access as of 2021. However, with several initiatives from the South African government, access to the internet improved by more than 14% as of 2023. This has also enabled the youth to take advantage of MOOC (massive open online courses) to uplevel their skills in AI technologies.
AI Economy With Guardrails: A Definite Possibility
The AI sector in Africa received about $17.5 million in government and private sector investments in 2019, and the vast potential of AI remains to be tapped as the countries continue to build foundational capabilities.
With a strong regulatory framework, strategies to strengthen the adoption of the three pillars, international conversations to protect “shared” interests and investment in digital literacy, the top three African countries embrace AI as a force to be reckoned with to generate positive economic outcomes in the coming years.
– Sudha Krishnaswami