Skip to main content

For African artificial intelligence that is ethical, fair


Jean Lebel

President, IDRC

Artificial intelligence (AI) has enormous potential to enhance development efforts in Africa, but it must be developed and used by and for Africans in an ethical and fair way.

Innovative African businesses are already using mobile telephone platforms with AI to provide access to financial services for hundreds of millions of Africans who do not have access to traditional banks. In agriculture, AI is used to support water management in the Middle East. In Uganda, farmers are using mobile phone apps to identify crops and monitor infestations.

However, artificial intelligence may also exacerbate social prejudices, placing the most marginalized in our societies at an even greater disadvantage. It increases surveillance capabilities that could infringe on privacy by accumulating data that can facilitate and automate propaganda campaigns. It also threatens to automate jobs that provide livelihoods for entire families and communities.

Building on its 50 years of expertise and its presence in Africa, IDRC supports African experts in mitigating the negative effects and increasing the benefits of AI.

Together with these experts, IDRC established an AI Network of Excellence in sub‑Saharan Africa. The network’s mission is to generate evidence so that AI may be used in support of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, including poverty alleviation, peacebuilding, gender equality, and climate change.

IDRC also supported the creation of an AI ecosystem map for countries in the Global South to foster South‑South collaboration. It includes more than 600 AI actors in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Africa’s population is expected to double to nearly 2.5 billion people by 2050. For these communities, artificial intelligence must be African, ethical and fair.

This article was originally published in Jeune Afrique magazine in December 2019.