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Announcing the #AI4D Africa Innovation 2019 Winners

The AI for Development (AI4D) Initiative is pleased to announce the winners of the AI4D-Africa Innovation Call for Proposals 2019.

Sign up and join us to celebrate the winners at  Deep Learning Indaba 2019 at the #AI4D Network of Excellence Innovation Grant Award Ceremony:

    • Tuesday, 27th August 2019 at 7 PM (Nairobi Time)
    • (LOCATION UPDATE) Interaction Hall – KUCC, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya.

The first named individual is the Principle Investigator. Funding for these innovation seed grants is made available with the support of Canada’s International  Development Research Centre. To learn more about our Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development in Sub-Saharan Africa click here. 

Congratulations to all recipients. Follow us at @AI4Dev. 


Dr. Abdelhak Mahmoudi  
Mohammed V University of Rabat, Morocco
Arabic Speech-to-MSL Translator: ‘Learning for Deaf’
To develop an Arabic text to Moroccan Sign Language (MSL) translation product through building two corpora of data on Arabic texts for the use of translation into MSL. The collected corpora of data will train Deep Learning Models to analyze and map Arabic words and sentences against MSL encodings.


Dr. Adewale Akinfaderin, Olamilekan Wahab and Olubayo Adekanmbi
Data Duality Lab, Data Science Nigeria, MTN Nigeria, Nigeria
Using Artificial Intelligence to Digitize Parliamentary Bills in Sub-Saharan Africa 
To improve and expand the categorizing of parliamentary bills in Nigeria using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), document embedding, and recurrent neural networks to three other countries in Africa: Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa. 


Dr. Amelia Taylor, Eva Mfutso-Bengo and Binart Kachule
University of Malawi and the Polytechnic, University of Malawi, Malawi
A Semi-Automatic Tool for Meta-Data Extraction from Malawi Court Judgments 
To develop a methodology for a semi-automatic classification of judgments disseminated by the High Court Library of the Malawi Judiciary with the purpose of enabling ‘intelligent searching’ within this body of knowledge.


Dr. Aminata Zerbo Sabane, Dr. Tegawendé Bissyande, and T. Idriss Tinto 
L’université Joseph Ki-Zerbo and La Communauté Afrique Francophone des Données Ouvertes, Burkina Faso
Preservation of Indigenous Languages 
To initiate a research roadmap for the preservation of indigenous languages through the means of collecting, categorizing and archiving of translation and voice synthesis to perform the automatic translation in official and indigenous languages. 


Denis Pastory Rubanga, Dr. Zekaya Never, Dr. Machuve Dina, Lilian Mkonyi, Loyani K. Loyani, Richard Mgaya.
Tokyo University of Agriculture, The Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, and Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania
A Computer Vision Tomato Pest Assessment and Prediction Tool    
Pest monitoring by using a data-driven computer vision technique in directing the extension officers support services across sub-Sahara Africa in a real-time pest damage assessment and recommendation support system for small scale tomato farmers.


Martha Shaka, Nyamos Waigama, Emilian Ngatunga, Halidi Maneno, Said Said, Said Mmaka, Frederick Apina, Simon Chaula, Emani Sulutya, Merikiadi Mashaka
University of Dodoma and Benjamin Mkapa Hospital, Tanzania
Effective Creation of Ground Truth Data-Set for Malaria Diagnosis Using Deep Learning 
To create an automatic data annotation tool and ground truth dataset for malaria diagnosis using deep learning. The ground truth dataset and the tool will streamline the development of AI tools for pathology diagnosis.


Dr. Moes Thiga and Dr. Pamela Kimeto
Kabarak University, Kenya
Early Detection of Pre-Eclampsia Using Wearable Devices and Long Short Term Memory Networks
To determine the effectiveness of Long Short Term Memory Network in the prediction of pregnant mothers at high risk of developing pre-eclampsia and the effectiveness of prophylaxis of preeclampsia.


Ronald Ojino and Khushal Brahmbhatt
Cooperative University of Kenya, Kenya
A Public Dataset on Poaching Trends in Kenya and a Study on the Predictive Modeling of Poaching Attacks
To test the feasibility of the deployment of Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) for automated intelligent patrol, detection, wildlife monitoring, identification across the national parks and reserves in Kenya. 


Steven Edward, Edward James, and Deo Shao
Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Tanzania
Improving the Pharmacovigilance system using Natural Language Processing  on Electronic Medical Records
To improve the pharmacovigilance system by proposing a novel algorithm for the auto-extract of adverse drug reaction cases from Electronic Medical Records and reduce the time taken and introduce the confidentiality of reporting.


Dr. Tegawendé F. Bissyande, Dr. Aminata Zerbo Sabane, and T. Idriss Tinto 
Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo and La Communauté Afrique Francophone des Données Ouvertes, Burkina Faso
Building a Medicinal Plant Database for Preserving Ethnopharmacological Knowledge in the Sahel 
To initiate the collection and construction of a medicinal plant database on top of which a search engine and AI-based image recognition for plants to enable scalable search of preserved knowledge.

Moses Thiga from Kabarak University on Artificial Intelligence


Play video by Moses Thiga, Kabarak University at the workshop “Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa”, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019

What are you working on?

My name is Dr Moses Thiga. I work at Kabarak University as a researcher, lecturer and researcher administrator. I am working on health informatics and specifically looking to how we can apply Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of things in the area of health, specifically my current project, it is in the area of predicting blood pressure for expected mothers in order to be able to prevent and manage preeclampsia. We collect data using smartwatches and want to take that into a machine learning pipeline to be able to predict future occurrences of abnormal blood pressure.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

AI for development in the context of Africa needs to be an initiative that begins by identifying what are Africa’s real problems on the ground. Once these problems are identified, then we need to have a viable approach to solving these problems, that is both stakeholder’s focus, community, engagement, and it needs to have a keen emphasis on the capacity building of Africans, to solve African problems, and funding needs to be there. And not necessarily from donors, but especially from the government.

What is your blue sky project in Africa?

My blue sky project for Africa would be an activity that helps Africa deal with its health challenges. Something that helps us to, both, predict and manage medical conditions, especially epidemics. Even in the area of noncommunicable diseases. Lifestyle diseases are beginning to increase in Africa. Those would be areas of keen interest for me.


Hussein Suleman from University of Cape Town on AI as a tool for development problems

Hussein Suleman, University of Cape Town at workshop "Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa", Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019
Hussein Suleman, University of Cape Town at the workshop “Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa”, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019

What are you working on at the moment?

My name is Hussein Suleman, I am from University of Cape Town, Computer Science. I work in the Center of ICT for development and our passion is actually solving development problems using computer technology in various different ways. One of those different ways is the use of machine learning for problems in cultural heritage preservation and various other information related problems.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

From my perspective, AI machine learning, this is a tool. It is very much a tool, it is a tool like various other things and I think development is a challenge, development is the problem, so we are looking on how we can use various tools, including machine learning to directly address development problems.

What is your blue sky project in Africa?

I have conceived a generic project around the notion of using information retrieval which includes lots of machine learning to address primary development challenges and some of the things that are really difficult problems, like being able to solve corruption. How can you address corruption in countries, and it turns out that one of the things we can do as information practitioners is monitoring an assessment on the bases of large analysis of data.

I would like to see as using machine learning to solve really difficult problems that will assist people like social scientists to make our countries more governable, more accountable, more transparent and things like that.



UNESCO’s Dorothy Gordon: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on International Development

IDRC’s President Jean Lebel invited Dorothy Gordon, the Chair of Information for All at UNESCO, to Montréal, where she shared her reflections on the potential impacts of artificial intelligence on international development. Here is a summary of her talk in Montréal in May 2019:

Dorothy’s talk focused on the opportunities of AI in the Global South and emphasized the continued need for international collaboration to foster practices that promote the responsible use of AI systems to benefit people. Looking at how technological innovations were deployed in many developing countries she also cautions that “a major problem with new technologies is that we have decision-makers with no ability to judge whether the technology they’re being sold is going to be able to deliver or not.”


Featured image by CORIM/Flickr 2019. Under Fair Use and no copyright infringement intended.

Paula Hidalgo-Sanchis from United Nations Global Pulse on how UN can help AI in Africa

Paula Hidalgo-Sanchis,United Nations Global Pulse at workshop "Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa", Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019
Paula Hidalgo-Sanchis,United Nations Global Pulse at workshop “Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa”, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019

What are you working on at the moment?

My name is Paula Hidalgo-Sanchis. I work as manager of Pulse Lab Kampala, which is one of the three labs of the UN Global Pulse network.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

AI frontier technologies, in general, can do to Africa what they can do to any other place in the world right now. That is the way I see it. I think that the challenges of our era, the challenges that are reflected on the SDGs, on the seventeen SDGs, are a reflection of the fragility of societies and environment these days on earth. I think we need new ways of doing things, and frontier technologies, including AI, offer us possibilities of looking at things differently and doing things differently.

What is your blue sky project in Africa?

What I would like to start doing is scaling up many of the numerous pilots that have happened in Africa in the last years. There have been very successful pilots conducted in small scale because support and the funding for those pilots were so small, but technology has been developed and has been proofed to be useful for many things. To support the response to infectious diseases, to support the integration of official statistics in alternative ways, to support incorporating the voices of the people, while we do development processes for them.

Many of these project integrated technology now is available. Scaling up those technology tools that were developed in partnership, in many times by the private sector, public sector and academia, continue with this partnership, also bringing civil society to the question. But I think really the secret is to scale up what has worked, with the right partnership and with inclusiveness in terms of the partnership.


AI4D-Africa Innovation Call for Proposals – July 18th, 2019

Submit Your Proposal Today

This Call for Proposals invites individuals, grassroots organizations, initiatives, academic, and civil society institutions to submit their proposals for mini-projects within the 2019 Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) initiative. In a recent AI4D workshop in Nairobi, the African community outlined a roadmap, including recommendations for capacity building, governance, and innovation for ethical and locally relevant AI research and a commitment to advance AI innovations that will be in aid of the sustainable development agenda of Africa.

The AI4D Africa call is anticipated to last for 6 weeks, from June 6th to July 18th. The projects selected for funding will be notified by August 16th, 2019 and will be invited to present their solutions at the AI4D workshop during the Deep Learning Indaba 2019 conference. Selected projects will be monetarily awarded from USD 5,000 to USD 8,000, funding which will be disbursed as the project progresses, based on agreed timelines and project deliverables.

Important dates:

  • June 6th, 2019 – Call for proposals release
  • July 18th, 2019 – Proposal submission deadline
  • August 1st, 2019 – Decision notification
  • September 1st, 2019 – Expected start of the projects
  • January 31st, 2020 – Reporting of the project outcomes

Proposals that fall within the below categories are highly encouraged as they fall within our focus areas, however, all proposals will be evaluated equally.

  • Future of Work
    • Microwork, new forms of employment, etc
  • Inclusion and gender
    • Text and speech datasets, tools and resources for African languages
    • Countering gender-based violence/harassment
    • Applications that benefit women’s empowerment and well being
    • Enabling the differently abled – tools and resources for the blind, deaf, etc.
  • Governance
    • Open Data
    • Government Service Delivery (procurement, social services, etc.)
  • Agriculture
    • Computer Vision for Plant and Animal Disease Diagnostics
  • Healthcare
    • Healthcare access
    • Computer Vision for Medical Diagnostics
    • Supply Chain Management
    • Natural language processing and disease outbreak surveillance
  • Education
    • Administrative Tasks Automation
    • Personalized Learning
    • Improving Learning Outcomes
  • Transportation
  • Disaster Management
  • Climate change

A strong proposal is one that meets any or all of the following requirements:

  • Result in the creation of a dataset. We propose that every dataset be accompanied with a datasheet that documents its motivation, composition, collection process, recommended uses, and so on. See this paper for further details. In addition, we would like that the dataset is kept free and open for public use (with ethical provisions being taken into account).
  • Novel and motivated goal. Of particular interest are tasks that imply machine learning solutions different from the traditional setting, this includes legal, ethical and social aspects to the ML solutions.
  • Challenging yet manageable task with scalable long-term vision. The task should be challenging in the sense that there is enough room for iteration and improvement from the initial solution. An initial solution should be attainable in a timeframe of 3 to 4 months.
  • Domain accessibility to the general public. The notions presented in the project description should be accessible to the majority of machine learning and data mining practitioners, including ethicists, policymakers and other stakeholders from across sub-Saharan Africa who might not have excessive domain knowledge in AI or access to a powerful computational infrastructure.

Please keep the proposal concise, no more than 4 pages, including references.

Applications should include:

  • Full names of lead(s)
  • Affiliation(s)(if any)
  • Email address(es)
  • Phone number(s)
  • Clearly stated objectives and expected outcomes
  • Activity timelines
  • Budget allocation
  • A brief paragraph on long-term vision, if any
  • Any other information you think we should know

The submission deadline is Thursday, July 18th, 2019, at 0000hrs (anywhere on earth).

Please use this form to make your submission.

Erik Bongcam Rudloff, SLU, on African bioinformatics and AI

Erik Bongcam Rudloff at workshop "Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa", Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019
Erik Bongcam Rudloff at the workshop “Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa”, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019

What are you working on at the moment?

My name is Erik Bongcam Rudloff, I am a professor of bioinformatics at the Swedish University of agricultural sciences in Uppsala Sweden. I work with different projects that are related to making analysis of the nucleotides, that means the genomes of living organisms and that is from viruses, bacteria, plant, animals and humans.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

The systems that we work with today which encompass from cellular level, to organ and to individuals, means that the complexity of all those data sets that we created are so enormous that the only way for people to get use of it, is using Artificial Intelligence systems.

What is your blue sky project in Africa?

I would like to try to work with a portable system which consists of a powerful computer connected to a powerful, portable, sequencing machine that you can use in the field. This will contain all the datasets and all the databases to which people can compare, so any time that is an outbreak of an unknown disease, you can immediately identify these pathogens being new, old or mutated on the spot. This means that to be able to send them to the field, we need intelligent systems in-build, so they can help in the decision making for people that do not have many years of training.

Watch the Live #AI4D Knowledge Webinar: Introducing the 2019 Government AI Readiness Index

Technologies have had an undeniable impact on improving living standards, connecting us together, and increasing productivity. With the right policies and institutional arrangements, governments can ensure that the benefits of artificial intelligence are shared broadly. This one-hour webinar will introduce and ignite a dialogue on this year’s Government AI Readiness Index and its implications on various regions. The dialogue will draw on the knowledge of leading regional experts who penned this report.

The Panelists

  • Hannah Miller, Report Lead Author from Oxford Insights, UK
  • Isaac Rutenberg, Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), Kenya
  • Fabrizio Scrollini, Executive Director of the Latin American Open Data Initiative, Uruguay
  • Alex Comninos, AI4D Policy & Regulation Focal Point, Research ICT Africa, South Africa

This webinar was moderated by Robert Muthuri, AI4D Policy & Regulation Focal Point, Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology, Kenya

If you wish to rewatch or missed the sold-out free webinar session, see below clip (Listen to it as a podcast):


  • Wednesday, May 15, 2019, from 16h-17h PM Nairobi Time | 14h-15h PM London |  9h-10h AM ET – Ottawa Time 
  • This webinar will be hosted on Webex

The 2019 Government AI Readiness Index was produced by Oxford Insights with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

The Government AI Readiness Index 2019: More Equal Implementation Needed to Close Global Inequalities

In an era where AI-enabled systems already power a broad set of activities such as social media algorithms, autonomous vehicles, flight navigation systems, agricultural sensors, disease diagnosis, it is only poised to become ever-more pervasive. However, “AI can either accelerate the achievement of the [Sustainable Development] goals or entrench existing gaps,” says IDRC President Jean Lebel in a recent article.

With the right policies and institutional arrangements, governments can ensure that the benefits of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence are shared broadly and help transform the way that public services are delivered and support better governance. The 2019 Government AI Readiness Index provides the first global panorama covering 194 countries and territories on governments’ preparedness to take advantage of the benefits of AI in their operations and delivery of public services.  

The 2019 ranking weighs several indicators for measuring government AI readiness with a focus on the responsible and ethical use of AI, weighting criteria such as the state of data protection and privacy laws and whether or not a national AI-related vision exists. The Index considers the availability of open government data, digital skills and education, and private sector capability to the scope and quality of digital public services, among others.

This year’s Index now includes in-depth analysis of AI readiness in regional contexts from regional experts. Regions and countries with strong economies, good governance, and innovative private sectors ranked higher on the Index. Governments in the Global North are still better positioned to reap the benefits of AI than their Southern counterparts, but there is an opportunity to address the imbalance. Otherwise, the differences in AI readiness between governments may increase the risk that certain countries could become testing grounds, where AI systems could be misused, and weaken the opportunities to use AI in support of the delivery for the common good and public welfare.

High-income countries with robust AI strategies and investments dominated the Top 10 spots of the Index. Singapore comes first, followed by the United Kingdom. Germany is third. Nordic countries – Finland, Sweden, and Denmark – secured top spots. Canada came in seventh place, ahead of France. Although Canada was the first country to announce a national AI strategy in early 2017 with a five-year $125-million plan, the index highlights opportunities for Canada to further invest in other dimensions of AI readiness.

Vibrant Artificial Intelligence Ecosystems in the Global South  

In contrast, Africa is the region positioned to benefit the most from improving and investing in AI readiness. No African countries came in the Top 50 with Kenya being edge out at 52nd. AI readiness in governments may have differing impacts in Africa than countries in the Top 10 such as Singapore. While the risk of AI-related automation of existing jobs in Africa is lower – for now – due to a larger informal sector, nevertheless AI may present new challenges and opportunities for fostering development in Africa. Governments in Africa will need to be ready to foster and encourage AI innovation through public and private sectors, to support new regulatory structures and deepen existing ones that will be needed to minimize potential harms, such as in health systems, and to consider how they will use AI-enabled technologies in their own policy making and service delivery.  

While Kenya is the only country out of the 46 sub-Saharan African states that has an AI-specific taskforce that is working towards a national strategy, the outlook for AI in Africa is positive. South Africa and Uganda recently announced the creation of their National Taskforces on emerging technologies. The development of AI is advancing at a rapid pace in sub-Saharan Africa. There is an important opportunity to support Government readiness in AI in order to ensure that countries from Africa are positioned to benefit from the potential of AI in their economies, health systems, service delivery and more. “African governments can capitalize on the late-mover advantage” to create smarter AI-related policies and institutional arrangements says Isaac Rutenberg, Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) and a contributor to the Index report.

Latin America’s AI future is still uncertain due to structural inequalities and governance challenges like weak privacy laws needed to enable the formulation of a clear AI policy and ethical framework for the region. Mexico leads this region’s rankings followed by Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil. Local AI capacity needs to be further strengthened and work closely with the public sector as there is an important disconnect between the AI ​community and the public sector. Across this region, we need “more investment tailored for the Latin American context and the right ethical and policy framework to kickstart an inclusive AI development cycle,” says Fabrizio Scrollini, Executive Director of the Latin American Open Data Initiative (ILDA).

Over the last two years, the interest in informal developer communities, the private sector, and researchers point to the growth of a vibrant and diverse AI ecosystem in the Global South. Similarly, as the Index uses secondary data, relying on traditional metrics of counting the number of patent applications and scientific publications on machine learning may underestimate the level and activity of innovation across middle and low-income countries.

The AI Network of Excellence in sub-Saharan Africa

To reduce the gap in AI readiness, IDRC is developing proposals with the Latin American and African AI communities. In recent regional workshops in Nairobi and Mexico City,  the start of is a vibrant AI ecosystem was evident, with a number of emerging initiatives already across the Global South aiming to strengthen machine learning and artificial intelligence research and talent. A third regional workshop is planned for Asia in late 2019.  

For example, in Nairobi, sixty African and international experts at the workshop collaboratively shaped a new ambitious and pragmatic roadmap for the AI Network of Excellence in sub-Saharan Africa. The roadmap sets out a vision and the start of a new AI research and innovation agenda for development on how African countries can address existing imbalances and strengthen AI readiness – in government and policy spheres, in industry and applications, and in building emerging talent and skills.

What would happen if there are more than 30 African countries developing their own AI strategies in the next five years? Imagine if more than 400 PhDs in AI and machine learning from across Africa were innovating and engaging in shaping global conversations about how AI can be used to support human development. And what if universities, the private sector, and other public interest institutions invest a billion dollars in collaborations on AI to support the achievement of African Union’s development blueprint Agenda 2063? This would certainly be important steps to change the unequal picture presented in this year’s index.

AI’s profound potential for accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals can only happen if it is well managed by governments and like-minded actors. This year’s  Government AI Readiness Index highlights the need for more equal implementation to close AI’s potential to widen global inequalities. With committed local AI community actors and global partners like Sweden, IDRC is looking to support collaborative approaches with researchers, enterprises, start-ups, policymakers, and civil societies to close this gap and make Canada a global partner in advancing effective and responsible development of AI for a more inclusive and sustainable world.  

The Index and report are licensed under a CC-BY. Follow us on Twitter @ai4dev.

To download the Government AI Readiness Index 2019 Report, click here. 





The commentary article was written by Kai-Hsin Hung, Katie Clancy, and Fernando Perini. This commentary article is the extensive version of the original Perspectives article published on IDRC’s website.

The Government AI Readiness Index 2019 is produced by Oxford Insights with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). We would like to thank all the regional experts who contributed to this report.

A roadmap for artificial intelligence for development in Africa

Based on the workshop ” Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa” – April 3-5, 2019 Nairobi, Kenya.


Artificial intelligence is poised to enhance productivity, innovation and help countries across sub-Saharan Africa to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – helping to improve outcomes from health care to agriculture to education. Yet as with any technology, the transformative potential benefits come with challenges that need to be managed and moderated. Though countries across sub-Saharan Africa are on this threshold of harnessing AI technologies to support genuine human development and bolster economic and political progress, there are likely to be ramifications on already precarious livelihoods, labour markets, and fragile governing institutions. Addressing these opportunities and challenges are key to the roadmap for AI for development.  

The AI Readiness Index 2018 (forthcoming)
The AI Readiness Index 2018 (forthcoming)

Infrastructural challenges, data gaps, highly skilled labour needs, and poor regulatory environments are still inhibiting people’s ability to harness AI across Africa. A global review of secondary data available on AI suggests that the continent needs to support better infrastructure and fill data gaps, and support education and capacity building to ensure there are enough highly skilled researchers able to implement AI solutions. Moreover, a critical dimension is the legal, ethical and human rights-based frameworks needed for countries to optimize the best uses of AI – frameworks that will protect citizens’ data and build trust and legitimacy for AI and the multitude of applications. These are still largely absent.

In the next five years, what would happen if we had more than 30 African countries developing their own AI policies and strategies? Imagine if there are more than 400 PhDs in AI and machine learning from across the continent? And what if universities, the private sector, and other public interest institutions invest a billion dollars in collaborations on AI to support the African sustainable development agenda?

These proposals are now emerging from the African AI community after the recent workshop in Nairobi on Artificial Intelligence for Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. The meeting gathered sixty African and international experts together to demonstrate and discuss how people across the continent are developing AI at a rapid pace. There is a vibrant AI ecosystem emerging across the continent with initiatives like Deep Learning Indaba, the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS), Data Science Africa, and Women+ in Machine Learning and Data Science (WIMLDS) — all of which aim to strengthen machine learning and artificial intelligence in Africa.

To support the growing momentum in Africa’s emerging AI ecosystem, this emerging ‘network of excellence’ of machine learning and AI practitioners and researchers is building a collaborative roadmap for AI for Development in Africa. The three-day workshop focused in on three critical areas of 1) policy and regulations, 2) skills and capacity building and 3) the application of AI in Africa. The following slides and the analysis below synthesize the participatory discussions during the workshop on these three critical areas.  

Artificial Intelligence Network of Excellence in Sub-Saharan Africa – Nairobi Workshop 2019

Policy and regulations

“Thirty African countries should develop AI specific policies and strategies over the next five years”

Currently, out of the 46 sub-Saharan African states, only Kenya has an AI taskforce that is working towards a national strategy. There is a clear need to build policy capacity as well to help design AI regulatory frameworks fit for the African context. An area of convergence in this discussion was the need to channel investments toward prioritized solutions for development, but also the need to reflect and better understand what “development” means. The pan-African development blueprint – the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – could offer such a shared vision. Other ideas emerged during the workshop, including collaboration within the network to inform and grow AI-specific policies to at least 30 African countries over the next five years, and increasing the adoption of the AU’s Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection. There is also critical recognition that the copy-and-paste of made-in-the-North AI policy frameworks will not serve the needs of Africans. No one country has all the solutions. So while policy options and best practices from other parts of the worlds can provide great sources of inspiration and guidance, the priorities and directions must be determined locally in a way that facilitates innovation, curbs any harms and upholds human rights.

Skills and infrastructure

“Create a pipeline of 400 African PhDs in AI, data science, and other interdisciplinary fields.”

Building an inclusive AI future in Africa means we must build AI strength through community. Skills and capacity received a lot of attention during the three-day workshop. One of the participants at the workshop shared that there is a need to “better formalize AI training and the recruitment of AI talent in Africa” and to create a pipeline of 400 African PhDs in AI, data science, and other interdisciplinary fields over the next five years. This means having the appropriate infrastructure to build this capacity.

Furthermore, there is the need to enhance the strength and agility of educational systems to meet new digital opportunities, and support investments in learning outcomes in the areas of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data sciences in Africa. As one participant said, “Let’s think beyond PhDs. We should also target and invest in youth at the primary school level, offer mentorship programs for emerging leaders, including for women and girls to build the next generation of AI practitioners, and create opportunities to bring more of the public into the AI conversation.” Moving forward, inclusion must remain a core principle in guiding the design of responsive and equitable AI skills and capacity building roadmap in Africa.

The hope is that it will be possible to establish an AI Centre of Excellence in every African country by 2030 that will help incubate ideas and foster AI communities of practice in an interdisciplinary and inclusive matter.


“A collective investment of USD 1 billion dollars in collaborative innovation and research prioritizing solution areas for sustainable development in Africa.”

The application of AI must be connected to people and their needs on the ground, and the potential benefits of AI translated into real impact for people. The ground-up approach of this collaborative workshop was an excellent way to start drawing fresh ideas and practical use cases on how AI could help increase access to healthcare and education for the most vulnerable in rural areas, and improve the movement of people, goods, and ideas especially within and between rapidly growing megacities across Africa.

A key idea discussed among participants was how to mobilize collaboration among a network of African companies, universities, research centres, and public institutions to collaborate on advancing the AI research for development agenda. Participants suggested a collective investment of USD 1 billion dollars in collaborative innovation and research prioritizing solution areas for sustainable development in Africa. These partnerships could mean when Africans design and deploy AI applications, societal goals and human rights commitments like decent work conditions and gender equality are integrated into projects from the beginning.

Next steps

It is very clear from the diverse range of voices at the workshop that we cannot forget that within Africa’s emerging and vibrant AI ecosystem, the inclusion and diversity of voices from traditionally marginalized communities must be prioritized. And there is a need to expand the AI Network of Excellence conversation to Francophone and Portuguese-speaking countries on the continent as well. It is also critical to understand that contexts differ in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa and even more so in places where AI is still unknown, so strategies and engagement must be tailored to local situations.

The enriching and collaborative dialogue over the three days of the AI4D workshop has built a solid foundation for the research and innovation agenda in Africa. Progress on this agenda will depend on the collective action of many actors to hone and support this vision, and we will continue to engage with partners and stakeholders in shaping an inclusive AI ecosystem in Africa.  

See also:


We would like to thank all the participants who contributed their voices and ideas during this event. This three-day dialogue was organized by the International Development Research Centre, Swedish International Development Agency, Knowledge for All Foundation and the Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya. Follow us on Twitter at @AI4Dev


lnteligencia Artificial y Desarrollo en America Latina: bases para una iniciativa regional

El crecimiento de la potencia computacional, la disponibilidad de grandes cantidades de datos abiertos y el progreso de los algoritmos han hecho que la Inteligencia Artificial (IA) se convierta en una de las tecnologías más prometedoras y desafiantes del siglo XXI. Sin embargo, varios países de la región de América Latina y el Caribe (ALC) apenas están generando conciencia sobre la importancia de estos desarrollos, y pocos han explorando el desarrollo de políticas nacionales aplicables a la inteligencia artificial. En este proceso, existe una desconexión importante entre la comunidad de práctica de la IA y las comunidades en desarrollo.

Dado este contexto, el Centro Latam Digital y el Centro Internacional de Investigaciones para el Desarrollo (IDRC) organizaron conjuntamente un taller con invitación para establecer colectivamente con actores clave un proyecto regional de Inteligencia Artificial para el Desarrollo.

El taller se llevó a cabo los días 25 y 26 de febrero de 2019 en el Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) en la Ciudad de México. El taller se desenvolvió como un intercambio abierto con la colaboración de la Iniciativa Latinoamericana para Datos Abiertos (ILDA) a través de sesiones plenarias y discusiones en grupos de trabajo con más de 30 expertos de nueve países de la región. Los participantes fueron seleccionados en función de sus antecedentes y conocimientos asociados al tema en cuestión.

Los objetivos del taller fueron:

  • Reunir a una serie de actores clave de las diversas comunidades involucradas en el desarrollo o producción, investigación, regulación y uso de la IA para compartir conocimiento e identificar áreas prioritarias claves de investigación y capacitación para la región.
  • Proporcionar directrices sobre la estructura y los objetivos potenciales de una iniciativa para apoyar el desarrollo de políticas nacionales sólidas sobre la IA en la región.
  • Establecer la base de una comunidad regional de responsables políticos, investigadores, empresas e instituciones del sector privado y organizaciones no gubernamentales orientadas al desarrollo y la implementación de la

Este blog resume las ideas más importantes del taller junto con los pasos a seguir hacia la construcción de una red de expertos y organizaciones que responden a la evolución reciente de las tecnologías de la información y comunicación (TIC) en América Latina e impulsen la IA como un vehículo para el desarrollo social y económico de la región.


 El enfoque durante el primer día fueron los desafíos de la inteligencia artificial en la región latinoamericana. Los participantes en el grupo coincidieron en que los gobiernos no reconocen a la IA como una solución potencial para los asuntos urgentes del desarrollo social y económico de su país. Es necesario crear un mayor entendimiento del impacto potencial de la adopción de la IA como un medio para la solución de problemas prioritarios en las agendas nacionales de desarrollo. El contexto latinoamericano enfrenta una falta de conciencia en el sector público sobre la IA; se trabaja de forma reactiva, vertical, en silos y sin convergencia.

Aunque exista un creciente acervo de informes y recursos para el análisis de la importancia de las agendas digitales nacionales, pocas veces se traducen en acciones por parte de los gobiernos debido a la falta de capacidad, estructura legal y autoridad para llevar a cabo la implementación en un contexto local específico con recursos limitados.

Los participantes estaban de acuerdo con que el gobierno es un actor esencial para impulsar políticas públicas eficientes para el aprovechamiento de la IA como habilitador del desarrollo de largo plazo. Sin embargo, los gobiernos necesitan marcos éticos de gobernanza de datos, lineamientos para la protección de datos y privacidad de información, una mejor distribución de recursos y de mecanismos para dar continuidad a una agenda digital y el uso de IA como habilitador.

Los siguientes puntos fueron planteados por los participantes.

  • Es clave definir una agenda en común entre actores en la región para plantear la IA como una capacidad transversal, no un producto, para impulsar el desarrollo sostenible.
  • Para definir una agenda accionable, es importante impulsar plataformas multiactor para dialogar y conocer a los actores a nivel regional y entender sus capacidades en distintos sectores, así como realizar un diagnóstico para para entender qué herramientas ya
  • Es necesario no solo fortalecer las capacidades de investigación en temas de IA, sino también hacer un vínculo entre académicos y empresas hasta complementar e equilibrar capacidades. Si complementamos capacidades, más fuerza tenemos para crear alianzas para desarrollar iniciativas alrededor de problemas críticos de los países de la región.
  • Es clave generar una demanda ciudadana para una agenda nacional de IA a través de
  • Es sumamente importante diagnosticar la etapa de madurez de IA en la región, para entender la oportunidad de fortalecer capacidades desde alfabetización digital hasta

gestión de proyectos de IA, articulación en políticas públicas, la capacidad técnica y acceso y manejo de infraestructura en los varios sectores.

Caminos por seguir

Los participantes buscaran definir posibles estrategias alrededor de tres puntos de intervención: diseño e influir en la política pública, desarrollo de habilidades, y aplicaciones de IA en la región. Conforme a la idea presentada por los representantes de IDRC, las intervenciones serían diseñados y ejecutados por una red regional de especialistas y organizaciones liderando temas relacionados con la IA.

Política pública

Para influir en la política pública, se acordó que es importante realizar un mapeo de iniciativas y políticas en la región para tener un panorama claro de los vacíos de conocimiento, capacidades, niveles de adopción y recursos asignados alrededor de IA. También se tendría que identificar dos a tres puntos de incidencia, posiblemente en el marco de gobierno digital o problemas sectoriales concretos que necesiten soluciones de corto plazo, para demostrar el potencial de impacto de la adopción de IA en la eficacia y eficiencia de programas gubernamentales. Para vigilar e informar sobre estrategias y políticas de IA, se podría crear un observatorio que también desarrolle una metrica de madurez de adopción nacional y subnacional en la región. Por último, es importante ofrecer actividades de capacitación presenciales y en línea de IA para gobiernos y definir esquemas de incentivos para su participación.

Desarrollo de habilidades

En el ámbito de desarrollo de habilidades, se propone crear un centro de investigación de alta calidad que estructure programas para crecer y retener talento para contribuir a la IA aplicada para abordar los retos al desarrollo en la región. Este centro se conecta a universidades, gobierno, industria. Cuenta con una agenda de investigación interdisciplinaria y un área de emprendimiento para contribuir al diseño de las soluciones para el desarrollo . Se comentó que al tener un centro de IA aplicada basada en la región, esta iniciativa puede tener un efecto secundario a la educación alrededor de alfabetización digital, STEM y generar entusiasmo en el sistema educativa.


Se deben definir áreas (como educación, agricultura, violencia, salud) para la aplicación de IA usando un marco de alto nivel como Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible que permiten adaptarse en contextos locales. Género debe ser un tema transversal que se integre en todas las áreas en las que se aplicaría intervenciones de IA. Para definir estas áreas, es clave realizar un mapeo de actores que participen en la selección de temas y ayuden identificar las iniciativas que deben ser elegidas a través de una serie de criterios. También se debe identificar mejores prácticas en IA para facilitar la réplica de iniciativas a través de estandarizar y proporcionar paquetes de herramientas para la implementación. Se propuso la idea de tener 3-4 estudios de caso en los primeros dos años del proyecto, y en cinco años tener resultados más tangibles con métricas e indicadores de impacto tales como niveles de bienestar, capacidades, conciencia y percepción del potencial de la inteligencia artificial entre otros.


Los participantes de este taller demostraron un gran interés en identificar oportunidades para la colaboración, la creación de redes y el compromiso de políticas en torno a la inteligencia artificial para el desarrollo en la región. Es necesario continuar con las discusiones y fortalecer vínculos entre las instituciones participantes para dar continuidad a las agendas discutidas. Se alentó a los participantes a identificar los próximos pasos en los que se pueda actuar.

Conforme a las conclusiones del taller, se desarrollará una red formal para sostener esta comunidad de especialistas. Esta red contará con una marca, estrategia y objetivos definidos, y un proceso de integración de nuevos actores para expandir a nivel país y regional a una escala manejable. A través de esta red, se definirán estrategias para compartir hitos, eventos, iniciativas de ley, contactos y oportunidades de financiamiento a través del uso de herramientas como Google Drive, Slack, una página web, y las redes sociales. Se desarrollará una ruta crítica para la red junto con un plan de comunicación para asegurar el seguimiento de las conversaciones acerca este proyecto. Un vez confirmado el cronograma y el presupuesto de IDRC, se organizarán reuniones de trabajo subsecuentes.

Centro Latam Digital e ILDA facilitarán conversaciones en curso entre los participantes a través de un canal de AI4D en SLACK para dar continuidad a la formación de una red de expertos, legisladores, investigadores y tecnólogos que han contribuido a este diálogo sobre inteligencia artificial para el desarrollo de América Latina.

Organizado por:

John Shawe-Taylor, University College London on the importance of a Network of Excellence in Africa

John Shawe-Taylor, University College London at workshop "Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa", Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019
John Shawe-Taylor, University College London at the workshop “Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa”, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019

What are you working on at the moment?

I am John Shawe-Taylor, I am a professor of computer science at University College London, where I am also head of the computer science department. I am also a director of the Knowledge 4 All Foundation, which is a UK charity involved in development for AI for education and sustainable development goals. Finally, I have a role as a UNESCO chair of Artificial Intelligence.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is a tool and we must always think of it in that way, it is very important we don’t get confused by thinking of it as somehow taking over, it’s a tool, it’s a very sophisticated tool, it’s also making us rethink who we are as human beings, which is I think also very useful for humanity and very positive. But it also has many, many risks and there are ways in which it is being misused, which we need to be vary of, guard against and counter.

We need to use our intelligence and Artificial Intelligence to counter negative, potential negative effects. That said, there are huge upsides that can be gained through the use of AI in a whole range of areas that are relevant for Sustainable Development Goals. Just understanding problems properly, analyzing them, understanding how they can be best tackled. These are appropriate for resource, implications and use climate change for new technologies for producing fuels for example and so on, recycling, there are huge numbers.

Perhaps the one I would focus on most is education where I believe AI can enhance the educational revision and experience of countless people across the globe because it can enable access to high-quality education for the masses. Up until now, the resources have been available, they are there but it’s very difficult to navigate through the vast plethora of material and find the right material for your level, for your understanding, for your interest.

But with AI to assist it is very much attainable, I think it the next five years, that we can see systems that will enable people to learn at the level that they are at, at the pace that they are able to reach in the direction they want to go and will make them skilled for the jobs that are available for them and for their society to be enhanced. So, this is a huge potential uplift that has fed on affects to all the other sustainable goals.