The rise of artificial intelligence in Africa

Artificial intelligence (AI) was first coined in 1956 by the scientist John McCarthy at Dartmouth College. Nearly 60 years later, it is now enjoying a major resurgence thanks to the exponential increases in computing power, the development of more sophisticated algorithms and the vast availability of data. The convergence of these technological developments has fueled AI’s rapid progress, making it the centre of attention for technology investment.

Today the hype around the AI is at its peak and many believe that we stand at the edge of a technological revolution. It is argued that today’s transformations are not merely a continuity of the third industrial revolution but rather the start of a fourth industrial revolution which is characterised by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds.

AI’s unprecedented growth and impressive advancements are not limited to specific geographies but rather have an impact on all continents, Africa included. However, many African countries are still battling with issues related to the first, second and third industrial revolutions such as electricity, mechanisation of production and automation. Therefore, questions about Africa’s preparedness for the fourth industrial revolution are being raised: Is Africa catching up with the continual advancement in technology?

From cheap abundant labour to natural resources, Africa’s current strengths seem not to match with the fundamental needs of the fourth industrial revolution that consist mainly of colossal investment capital, research and development (R&D) and highly-skilled talent. However, the ongoing industrial revolution represents an opportunity, if used well, that will enable Africa to become a main player in the world economy.

Africa is embracing technology in a way that sets it apart from other continents, according to a report by PwC. Across the continent, many sectors have been empowered by an early adoption of technology. Instances include the agriculture and healthcare sectors.


With agriculture being the largest employer in Africa, innovative technology is increasingly important to modernise the sector and improve the livelihood of a large farming community. In this regard, different technology innovations have been developed.

  • ECX e-Trade platform: In 2015, The Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) has teamed up with IBM and IBM Business Partner Wavetec, to build a coffee-traceability solution based on state-of-the-art analytic, mobile and internet of things (IoT) technology. Today, the IoT solution tracks coffee through all stages of the supply chain. The full traceability helps firms in the coffee business obtain Fairtrade and organic certification for their products. Additionally, Ethiopian farmers are more ready to compete on the coffee market. These factors are helping the nation improve its exports. The ECX is currently using the solution to track about five million bags of coffee and it plans to extend the solution to support five million farmers. Next, the organisation plans to expand the solution to other commodities produced in Ethiopia, such as sesame and haricot beans.
  • Aeroview platform: Aeroview is a platform developed by the Cape Town based start-up Aerobotics. It uses AI, satellites and drones to assist farmers and help them optimise the yield through analysing processed maps to identify problem areas in crops. Aeroview is available worldwide and has users in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Australia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Thanks to Aerobotics’ technology, sugar farmers in South Africa can now intervene early to prevent up to 20% of crop failures via the system’s analytics, which harnesses the infra-red imagery to map regions and individual crop rows of stressed plants.

In general, the growing mobile connectivity in Africa has helped provide channels to communicate information to farmers about their livestock, crops and the latest market prices.


African countries are aware of the necessity of technology in improving the performance of healthcare. In fact, some parts of Africa have already started integrating artificial intelligence in their healthcare systems. Some examples are as follow:

  • SOPHiA: Medical institutions in Morocco, Cameroon and South Africa have integrated SOPHiA artificial intelligence for clinical genomics into their clinical workflow to improve patients’ care. SOPHiA would enable hospitals to analyse genomic data to identify disease-causing mutations in patients’ genomic profiles and decide on the most effective care.
  • Drones: Rwanda has adopted the world’s first national drone delivery network for medical aid, which is used to deliver blood to patients in remote areas. The California based Robotics company “Zipline” is working directly with Rwanda’s National Centre for Blood Transfusion to make 50 to 150 deliveries a day of blood to 21 transfusing facilities in the western part of the country. Rwanda has formalised drone regulations and is currently building a drone airport that is scheduled to be completed in 2020.
  • Scanning platform: An optical accessory that fits onto Android smartphones is now used by healthcare professional, in six African countries, to examine women for early signs of cervical cancer. The device is being enhanced by the integration of artificial intelligence to guide the healthcare professional through the diagnostic process.

Technology has been key to Africa’s development in recent years. From providing accessible information on market prices, weather, health and good farming practices; technology is improving the quality of life for people in Africa.

Today, Africa presents a hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship that is not constrained by legacy systems. This is an opportunity that should be seized by policy makers and businesses to develop their own distinctive technology model with the objective to bring to mainstream use all of the emerging technologies such as robotics, 3D printing, AI and the IoT.

Nouha Abardazzou is an analyst at Infomineo.

Infomineo is a business research company, focusing on Africa and the Middle East. The company provides its clients, including the majority of the leading global management consulting firms and several Fortune Global 500 companies, with ad hoc data on countries, markets, companies and people gathered through primary and secondary research. For more information please contact [email protected] or visit