When we discuss policy we usually think about it in terms of regulation, structure and preventing bad actors from leveraging on technology of harm but policy regulation from organizations like the African Union (AU), can give the African continent a competitive edge by supporting innovation through its AI policy by implementing various strategies and initiatives.
Here is a snapshot of the ways the AU can promote innovation in the context of AI:
- Research and Development Funding: The AU can allocate funds specifically for AI research and development within member states. This funding can support the creation of AI-focused research institutions, provide grants to researchers and innovators, and encourage collaboration between academia, industry, and government. Currently the European Union (EU) provides funding and investment opportunities for AI innovation through programs like Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe Program. These initiatives support research and development projects, foster collaboration between academia and industry, and provide financial support to startups and SMEs working on AI technologies.
- Innovation Hubs and Incubators: Innovation Hubs have proven to be great access points for innovation in Africa. Innovation hubs have provided cheap location, internet, utilities as well as innovations communities that enable startups to thrive so there is no wonder there is direct correlation the top tech cities and the number of innovation hubs in those cities.
Briter Bridges shows a breakdown of innovation hubs and top tech cities in Africa as:
- Lagos, Cairo, Cape Town, Nairobi, and Johannesburg belong to Tier 1, with 20 to 40 hubs each
- Casablanca, Accra, Abidjan, Tunis, and Abuja follow suit as Tier 2 cities, with 15+ hubs each
- Dakar, Bamako, Kampala, Dar Es Salaam, and Lomé with 10+ hubs are the latest emerging cities
The AU could work with established innovation hubs and incubators across the continent that focus on AI and emerging technologies. These hubs can provide support, resources, mentorship, and networking opportunities to AI startups and innovators, fostering an ecosystem that encourages experimentation and creativity.
- Capacity Building and Skills Development: The AU is currently invested in digital skills across the continent with its digital skills program. The AU also has a definitive capacity and skills development agenda in its Digital Transformation policy documents, which means extending these programs to include AI education and training programs is not a huge leap. By providing opportunities for Africans to acquire AI-related skills and knowledge, the AU can enhance the continent’s innovation potential. This can include initiatives such as workshops, seminars, online courses, and partnerships with educational institutions.
- Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: The AU can facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among member states, industry leaders, and experts in AI. This can be done through conferences, forums and workshops where stakeholders can exchange ideas, share best practices, and discuss emerging trends in AI. Collaboration can also extend to international partnerships with other regions and organizations, fostering cross-border innovation.
- Regulatory Frameworks and Standards: The AU can work towards establishing clear and comprehensive regulatory frameworks for AI that balance innovation with ethical considerations. By defining guidelines and standards for the responsible development and deployment of AI, the AU can create an environment that encourages innovation while protecting the rights and interests of individuals and communities.
- Investment and Entrepreneurship Support: The AU can encourage investment in AI startups and entrepreneurial ventures by providing incentives, creating favorable investment environments, and connecting investors with promising AI projects. This can include initiatives such as venture capital funds, startup competitions, and networking events that bring together investors and innovators.
- Use of AI in Government Services: The AU can lead by example by incorporating AI technologies in its own operations and services. By embracing AI in areas such as healthcare, transportation, agriculture, and public administration, the AU can demonstrate the potential benefits of AI and encourage member states to adopt similar approaches.
- Policy Advocacy and Guidance: The AU can play a proactive role in advocating for AI-friendly policies at the national and regional levels. This can involve providing guidance and recommendations to member states on AI-related policies, regulations, and strategies, aligning them with international best practices and ensuring coherence across the continent.
By implementing these measures, the AU can create an enabling environment for AI innovation, fostering the development of AI-driven solutions that address African challenges, drive economic growth, and improve the lives of African citizens.