Rwanda has done well for itself ranking third in Africa in the 2023 Government Artificial Intelligence (AI) Readiness Index. This is an improvement from the tenth position in 2021. The index assesses how prepared countries are to implement and administer AI technologies. ALSO READ: Rwanda could earn Rwf730bn from Artificial Intelligence – new study The ranking is an endorsement of sorts, not just for Rwanda but elsewhere, as each of the 193 countries in the index has something remaining to fully exploit AI technologies. Rwanda has received some mention in the readiness index, one reason being its National AI Policy which has been in place since April 2023. It articulates a strategy to harness AI technology for socio-economic development and public services. ALSO READ: AI has potential to create jobs with higher economic value, says ICT minister The AI strategy is the first in the East African Community and only the fourth in the continent, along with Mauritius, Senegal, and Benin. More countries are expected to have their own this year, in addition to data protection laws which 35 countries already have. The African Union already has developed a framework under its Artificial Continental Strategy for Africa that is expected to guide countries in drafting and implementing their national AI strategies. The framework is necessary because while each African country has its unique circumstances, they often reflect each other’s needs. ALSO READ: Make Artificial Intelligence work for Africa – Kagame For example, Rwanda’s priority areas, as articulated in its strategy, include fostering a skilled workforce, developing robust infrastructure, encouraging adoption in the private sector, and ensuring the ethical use of AI technologies. These areas are reflected across the continent, and their implementation will require a deliberate and focused execution. A friend has likened executing the priority areas to a jigsaw puzzle, whose pieces are painstakingly laid in place to realise the picture, if successful. But even if the countries modestly succeed, it will be worth the effort. Some forecasts reckon that Africa potentially stands to gain the region of one trillion US dollars from increased productivity and consumption fuelled by artificial intelligence technologies. With adequate investment in Rwanda, for example, it is projected the country could earn up to $589 million (approx. Rwf748 billion at the current exchange rate) or six per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product over the next five years. More broadly, however, the true measure of success must be how inclusive the utility of artificial intelligence will be to every citizen, particularly the most marginalised on the continent. It is well known how datasets on which AI systems are trained often leave out, or are fraught with bias against underrepresented groups, especially women and persons with disabilities. One study estimates that between 10-20 per cent of the population in Africa has a disability. This calculates to a significant population of 280 million people with disability out of a total population of 1.4 billion people on the continent. The study finds that, in the era of e-government, many persons with disabilities face barriers when interacting with government websites, resulting in increased economic and social inequality. Among other reasons leading to this include the lack of representative PWD datasets to train AI models, proper policy safeguards, digital skills gaps, and lack of funding. If my friend’s metaphor of the jigsaw puzzle is apt, this one must rank among the most important pieces to complete the picture. Another metaphorical piece is the perennial gender equity issue. The gap between men and women in AI in Africa stood at 71-29 per cent as recently as 2018. This paints a dire situation, notwithstanding that the gap is almost the same as the global average of 78-22 per cent. Something must be done about the gender disparity. But to place Rwanda on the pedestal, some might argue that, known for its gender inclusivity, it might make a good canary in the AI gold mine. It would not be a stretch to suggest that many are looking up to Rwanda’s progressive example. More so because Kigali is slated to host a high-level summit on artificial intelligence in Africa this year in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. Themed AI and Africa’s Demographic Dividend: Reimagining Economic Opportunities for Africa’s Workforce”, the summit will seek to address the question of equitable distribution and access to AI, among other pressing issues. The summit adds to various other forums on AI in the continent such as the 2023 AfricaAI conference in Kigali, and, among others, the 2023 Conference on the State of Artificial Intelligence In Africa (COSAA) in Kenya. Such conferences emphasize how AI has taken off in the continent, and the much that remains. At COSAA the world was informed that Africa has more than 2,400 AI organisations operating across various industries, including health, wellness, fitness, farming, law, training, insurance, and other sectors. Some Western countries boast more than that number, but innumerable grassroots startups are trying their hand across Africa.