EAC trailing in adoption of advanced technology

Wednesday March 10 2021
Moses Kiuna, David Gathu

Moses Kiuna (left) and David Gathu show how their brain-signal-operated prosthetic arm robot works in Thogoto, Kenya. Frontier technologies like AI, robotics and biotechnology are going to redefine the post-pandemic future. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NMG


East African Community countries are trailing other regions in the world in uptake and use of the latest technology available in the market.

In a survey of 158 countries assessed on the progress made on frontier technologies, Kenya is ranked seventh in sub-Saharan Africa and 105 globally trailing South Africa, Mauritius, Namibia, Gabon, Cape Verde and Ghana. Uganda is ranked 128, Rwanda 133, Tanzania and Burundi were graded 138th and 145th respectively.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD) Technology and Innovation Report 2021 surveyed the use and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), super-fast Internet connectivity (5G), the Internet of things, big data, block chain, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaic, which it estimates control a $350 billion market globally, forecasting a jump to as much as $3.2 trillion in 2025.

"Frontier technologies are redefining our world, especially our post-pandemic future. It is key that developing countries do not miss the wave, otherwise it will further deepen inequalities. Hence, societies and productive sectors need to be well prepared and build the required skills," said UNCTAD's director of division on technology and logistics Shamika Sirimanne.

Paul Omeno, East Africa regional co-ordinator of Dr Artificial Intelligence (DrAI), a company dealing with data mining, said Kenya has been considered as the epitome of technology in East Africa, and scores six out of 10 by Government Artificial Intelligence Readiness Index 2019, because of its good telecommunication infrastructure.

"Other countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi are trying to click in their technologies, but a lot of structural backgrounds might be hindering them," said Mr Omeno.


He added that East African countries have to develop relevant skills and knowledge of AI, reduce cost of data and modernise operations in different sectors that contribute to the countries' gross domestic product.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said recent developments in frontier technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology, have shown tremendous potential for sustainable development.

Mr Guterres said that despite increased developments, there is a risk of increasing inequalities by exacerbating and creating new digital divides between the technology haves and have-nots and that the Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed this dichotomy.

The economies most ready for these rapidly changing technologies are in northern America and Europe, while those least ready are in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions.

A few developing countries are outperforming in adopting technologies such as blockchain, robotics, 5G or AI.

The UNCTAD report calls on developing nations to prepare for a period of deep and rapid technological change that will profoundly affect markets and societies.