Higher AI uptake can hoist Africa’s economic agenda to greater height
Tuesday October 18 2022
Several companies specialising in artificial intelligence (AI) have emerged in the region, bringing solutions to decades-old challenges in multiple sectors as the novel technology gains footing in the continent.
The industry has witnessed exponential growth in the past five years, with many of the entrants being privately-owned micro-businesses, according to the 2022 State of AI in Africa Report by South Africa’s AI Media Group.
In East Africa, 328 companies specialise in AI services, 40 percent of which were founded in the past five years.
Most of the firms are in the information technology and computer software sectors, offering solutions across sectors such as agriculture, health, commerce, and education.
Shamba Records in Kenya, for example, has developed a tool that employs AI to predict the possible yields of a parcel of land using data on the size, location, weather, among other factors.
George Maina, Shamba Record’s founder and chief executive, told The EastAfrican that the tool can also assess the risks involved in a particular farm and inform insurers on appropriate premiums and determine a farmer’s credit worthiness to enable them secure affordable loans.
Shamba Records is one of the Kenyan AI firms that have received funding since 2019, which Mr Maina said, is one of the factors that fuelled their success.
AI Wakforce, another Kenyan firm, has created a system of that automates regular check-out processes in supermarkets, for instance. With the system, buyers only need a smartphone application to scan product codes and can pay via mobile money without the need of cashiers.
Moses Njau, AI Wakforce’s founder, says their system helps retailers reduce operational costs significantly, given the rising cost of labour as education levels and exposure increase.
In Tanzania, Mtabe App, helps students without access to smartphones or internet learning resources to pose academic questions and receive responses.
Given Edward, the creator of Mtabe App, said students send a question in text message form to a particular number in any language, and their system will detect the language, subject, and give feedback instantly.
The innovators reckon that there is great reception of artificial intelligence in the region, although some challenges still impede their ventures’ progress.
“East Africa has enough graduates who can be trained into qualified AI professionals at affordable rates, making labour readily available,” said Mr Njau.
He lamented that local firms were reluctant to embrace AI solutions, forcing his firm to turn to foreign businesses even though they are based in Kenya.
Mr Maina of Shamba Records says that starting an AI firm needs a lot of initial capital to purchase required tools and create awareness of the solutions they offer given the novelty of the technology in the region.
Commercialising the AI solutions their firms provide is also an uphill task requiring steep advertisement and investment, thereby raising operational costs, Mr Edward said.