Global tech giants in Africa AI gold rush

African countries are rushing to create their own AI policies

In Summary

• Multinationals are opening a new battlefront to shape AI in Africa

Image: bird story agency

Global technology giants are lining up to tap into a multibillion-dollar opportunity in the nascent Artificial Intelligence (AI) market.

They include Microsoft, IBM, Huawei, Nvidia and Google.

The five multinationals top the list of more than 100 tech companies across the globe that will feature in the ‘AI Everything’ forum in this year’s Gitex Africa 2024, the continent's premier tech and startup event.

Organisers of this event, scheduled to take place from May 29 to 31 in Marrakech, Morocco, said the conference offers these tech titans a pivotal opportunity to engage and forge fresh connections with pioneering African startups, business angels and thought leaders.

Software giant Microsoft continues to push up its AI investments on the continent by forging strategic partnerships and supporting key dialogue forums, including being Gitex Africa’s official AI Partner. 

Microsoft Africa president Lillian Barnard said in a statement that AI can unlock a continent “brimming with investment opportunity”.

“Africa has long been recognised for its formidable growth prospects, and AI is the long-awaited key to help unlock that potential,” she said.

Gitex Africa organisers say Africa's AI opportunity has begun disrupting digital advancements in finance, agriculture, healthcare and mobility sectors.

This has fuelled a booming AI market that is expected to grow 30 per cent annually over the next six years, reaching a value of $17 billion by 2030, according to Statista.

According to Microsoft, the AI-powered innovation is poised to reinvent every aspect of society, from healthcare to financial services, manufacturing and beyond.

“If Africa is to benefit from the paradigm shift currently sweeping the globe, we must make the promise of AI real for people and organisations across the continent, and do so responsibly,” she said.

In January, Microsoft announced a “multibillion-dollar” investment in OpenAI, a start-up that created the ChatGPT bot and integrated it into its Azure cloud service in a bid to dominate the AI industry.

In Africa, Microsoft is collaborating with various entities to implement AI solutions to improve government services, expand businesses and foster innovation.

They include government, businesses and startups in Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa.

In Kenya, the tech giant is using AI to address climate and sustainability challenges in food and water security, while in Morocco, AI is improving water conservation efforts.

In South Africa, Microsoft is partnering with key sectors to optimise healthcare systems and manage urban infrastructure, reshaping public service delivery and addressing societal challenges.

IBM is betting on its global upskilling programme to make AI inroads into the continent.

The technology giant is partnering with key university partners and organisations to deliver AI training and generative AI coursework, aiming to train two-million learners globally, focusing on underrepresented communities over the next three years.

In November 2023, IBM entered a strategic partnership with Amazon Web Services to help African clients operationalise and derive value from generative AI. As part of this partnership, IBM Consulting aims to train 10,000 consultants by the end of 2024.

Google is seeking Africa’s AI opportunities through funding startups that address Africa’s critical areas, such as healthcare, education, agriculture, finance and sustainability.

In April, the giant search engine expressed interest in investing in African startups leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) through its Startups Accelerator Africa programme.

“We’re excited to support the next generation of African AI pioneers through the Google for Startups Accelerator,” said Folarin Aiyegbusi, head of startups ecosystem-Africa at Google in a statement.

He said they are providing them with the resources and mentorship they need to build successful, impactful businesses.

Google said the three-month equity-free virtual programme will provide African startups with mentorship, technical resources and access to a global network of experts and investors.

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