Africa Begins Push for AI Regulation

In the month before the African Union’s draft for AI policy was released, Qubit Hub founder Shikoh Gitau, a computer scientist from Nairobi, published a research paper. She argued that Africa’s main focus should be on enhancing AI industry development before implementing any regulations on it. David Lemayian, one of the co-writers of the paper, shares the same belief, stating that if they start off by enforcing regulations, they might miss out on the unique innovation opportunities that await Africa.

However, there are others like Okolo, who provided consultation for the AU-AI draft policy, disagrees with Gitau and Lemayian. Okolo is of the opinion that Africa should be proactively leaning towards implementing AI regulations. He suggests considering alterations in existing legislation, such as data privacy and digital governance policies in order to address AI.

Gitau, on the other hand, raises concerns that prompt action towards AI regulation could potentially stunt the adoption of AI technology. She believes that it is of utmost importance to build a native AI that has been specifically designed for Africans in order for them to harness the technology for economic growth.

“We need to delve deeply into understanding how this technology works and concentrate on building an African AI ecosystem before we start considering regulations,” Gitau says.

Currently, over 50 countries along with the EU have established AI strategies. More than 700 AI policy initiatives have been started since 2017 as per the AI Policy Observatory run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). However, only five of these initiatives have been from Africa. Additionally, none of the 38 member countries of the OECD are African.

The lack of African perspective in global AI governance and regulation discussions has been noted by Melody Musoni, a policy and digital governance expert at ECDPM, an independent-policy think tank in Brussels.

“Contributing our perspectives and owning our regulatory framework is an absolute necessity,” Musoni commented. “We want to become standard creators, not just following existing standards.”