Africa’s push to regulate AI starts now        

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In February, just before the AU’s AI policy draft came out, Shikoh Gitau, a computer scientist who started the Nairobi-based AI research lab Qubit Hub, published a paper arguing that Africa should prioritize the development of an AI industry before trying to regulate the technology. 

“If we start by regulating, we’re not going to figure out the innovations and opportunities that exist for Africa,” says David Lemayian, a software engineer and one of the paper’s co-authors.  

Okolo, who consulted on the AU-AI draft policy, disagrees. Africa should be proactive in developing regulations, Okolo says. She suggests African countries reform existing laws such as policies on data privacy and digital governance to address AI. 

But Gitau is concerned that a hasty approach to regulating AI could hinder adoption of the technology. And she says it’s critical to build homegrown AI with applications tailored for Africans to harness the power of AI to improve economic growth. 

“Before we put regulations [in place], we need to do the hard work of understanding the full spectrum of the technology and invest in building the African AI ecosystem,” she says.

More than 50 countries and the EU have AI strategies in place, and more than 700 AI policy initiatives have been implemented since 2017, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s AI Policy Observatory. But only five of those initiatives are from Africa and none of the OECD’s 38 member countries are African.

Africa’s voices and perspectives have largely been absent from global discussions on AI governance and regulation, says Melody Musoni, a policy and digital governance expert at ECDPM, an independent-policy think tank in Brussels.   

“We must contribute our perspectives and own our regulatory frameworks,” says Musoni. “We want to be standard makers, not standard takers.” 

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