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Global tech giants in Africa AI gold rush

GLOBAL technology giants including Microsoft, IBM, Huawei, Nvidia, and Google are lining up to tap into a multi-billion dollar opportunity in the nascent Artificial Intelligence (AI) market.

The five multinationals top the list of more than 100 tech companies across the globe that will feature in the ‘AI Everything’ forum in this year’s GITEX Africa 2024, the continent’s premier tech and startup event.

Organisers of this event scheduled to take place from May 29 to 31, 2024, in Marrakech, Morocco said the conference offers these tech titans a pivotal opportunity to engage and forge fresh connections with pioneering African startups, business angels and thought leaders.

Software giant, Microsoft continue to push up its AI investments on the continent by forging strategic partnerships and supporting key dialogue forums including being GITEX AFRICA’s official AI Partner. 

Microsoft Africa President, Lillian Barnard, said in a statement that AI can unlock a continent “brimming with investment opportunity.”

“Africa has long been recognised for its formidable growth prospects and AI is the long-awaited key to help unlock that potential,” said Barnard.

GITEX Africa organizers say Africa’s AI opportunity has begun disrupting digital advancements in finance, agriculture, healthcare, and mobility sectors, fuelling a booming AI market that is expected to grow 30% annually over the next six years, reaching a value of US$17 billion by 2030, according to Statista.

According to Microsoft, AI-powered innovation is poised to reinvent every aspect of society, from healthcare to financial services, manufacturing and beyond.

“If Africa is to benefit from the paradigm shift currently sweeping the globe, we must make the promise of AI real for people and organisations across the continent – and do so responsibly,” she said.

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In January, Microsoft announced a “multibillion-dollar” investment in OpenAI, a start-up that created the ChatGPT bot and integrated it into its Azure cloud service, in a bid to dominate the AI industry.

In Africa, Microsoft is collaborating with governments, businesses, and startups in Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, and South Africa to implement AI solutions to improve government services, expand businesses, and foster innovation.

In Kenya, the tech giant is using AI to address climate and sustainability challenges in food and water security, while in Morocco, AI is improving water conservation efforts.

In South Africa, Microsoft is partnering with key sectors to optimize healthcare systems and manage urban infrastructure, reshaping public service delivery and addressing societal challenges.

IBM is betting on its global upskilling programme to make AI inroads into the continent.

The technology giant is partnering with key university partners and organizations to deliver AI training and generative AI coursework, aiming to train two million learners globally, focusing on underrepresented communities, over the next three years.

In November 2023, IBM entered a strategic partnership with Amazon Web Services to help African clients operationalize and derive value from generative AI. As part of this partnership, IBM Consulting aims to train 10,000 consultants by the end of 2024.

Google is seeking Africa’s AI opportunities through funding startups that address Africa’s critical area such as healthcare, education, agriculture, finance, and sustainability.

In April, the giant search engine expressed interest in investing in African startups leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) through its Startups Accelerator Africa program.

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“We’re excited to support the next generation of African AI pioneers through the Google for Startups Accelerator, providing them with the resources and mentorship they need to build successful, impactful businesses,” said Folarin Aiyegbusi, Head of Startups Ecosystem, Africa at Google in a statement.

The three-month equity-free virtual program, Google said will provide African startups with mentorship, technical resources, and access to a global network of experts and investors.

Several African countries are currently in the process of developing and implementing AI strategies to take advantage of this innovative technology.

In December 2023, Rwanda became the first African country to publish an AI strategy to harness AI’s benefits while mitigating its risks. Egypt and Mauritius have also published their own national AI strategies, with several other countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, currently at different stages of creating similar strategies.

Africa’s first AI research centre, the African Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, was launched in Brazzaville, Congo, in 2022, making the country a significant regional hub for developing emerging technologies.

The development of artificial intelligence has led to new diplomatic alignments, with the US and China positioning their countries and companies for the expected opportunities.

In April, the US Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, and Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Information, Communication and the Digital Economy, Eliud Owalo, signed a partnership agreement to allow American companies to invest in digital skills, including AI, and the development of data centres in Kenya.

“Both principals noted the important role data privacy, data protection, and cross-border data transfers play in developing critical and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). They also reaffirmed their intention to cooperate on establishing interoperable privacy regimes and facilitating trusted cross-border data flows,” they said in a joint statement.

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Similarly, in the same month, China’s top cyberspace regulator pledged to deepen the push for AI governance with African countries at a China-Africa internet forum.

The director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, Zhuang Rongwen, said the country would work with Africa to share opportunities brought by the information revolution and improve the global internet governance system.

UAE Big data analytics firm, Chief Operations Officer, Dr. Adel Alsharji said Africa’s AI journey is gaining momentum, and this progress highlights the continent’s readiness to explore and harness the potential of AI for driving economic growth and addressing local challenges.

“Africa is the second-fastest growing region globally in AI adoption. demand for AI-related jobs will increase two-fold over the next three years. “AI could add US$13 trillion to the global economy by 2030, while the number of AI-related jobs in Africa alone is expected to grow by 200 percent by 2025.”

Already Africa has a rapidly growing population of 1.5 billion people – of which 70 percent are under the age of 30 – seen by pundits as creating a potent recipe for AI acceleration in Africa.