I am delighted to stand before you today as we gather at the 11th edition of the Digital Africa Conference and Exhibition. The theme for this year’s event is “Artificial Intelligence and Africa,” which is both timely and significant. It attests to our commitment to harnessing the power of technology to drive economic growth, social development, and innovation across the African continent.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as one of the most transformative technologies of our time. Its potential to revolutionize industries, enhance productivity, and improve the quality of life for citizens cannot be overstated. As the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), I believe that AI will play a pivotal role in shaping Africa’s digital future. There are several examples of AI-powered software in use in our daily lives, including voice assistants, face recognition for unlocking mobile phones, fingerprint biometrics, and machine learning-based financial fraud detection.
In recent years, we have witnessed remarkable advancements in AI across various sectors, including healthcare, agriculture, finance, transportation, education, and even governance. AI-powered solutions have the potential to address some of Africa’s most pressing challenges, such as limited access to healthcare, food security, financial inclusion, and infrastructure development.
However, for Africa to fully embrace the benefits of AI, we must address several critical factors. First, we must invest in building the necessary digital infrastructure. This includes expanding broadband connectivity.
In Nigeria, as of July 2023, the broadband penetration stood at 47.01%. Also, the continent must commit to ensuring reliable power supply and fostering a conducive regulatory environment. Without robust infrastructure, the potential of AI will remain untapped, and the digital divide will further widen.
Secondly, we must prioritize digital skills development. AI technologies require a skilled workforce capable of developing, deploying, and maintaining these systems. We need to invest in education and training programs that equip our youth with the necessary skills to participate in the AI-driven economy. By nurturing a generation of AI experts, we can elevate Africa’s position in the global AI landscape and create job opportunities for our youth.
Moreover, ethical considerations must underpin our approach to AI. As we deploy AI systems, we must ensure transparency, accountability, and fairness. We must guard against biases, protect privacy and data security, and uphold human rights. AI should be a force for good, promoting inclusivity and leaving no one behind.
Collaboration and partnerships are also crucial in unlocking the potential of AI in Africa. We must foster collaboration among governments, regulatory bodies, academia, the private sector, and civil society. By working together, we can share knowledge, pool resources together, and leverage expertise to drive innovation and create an enabling environment for AI adoption.
The Nigerian Communications Commission is fully committed to supporting the development and deployment of AI technologies in Nigeria and across the continent. We are working to create an enabling regulatory framework that promotes innovation while safeguarding the interests of consumers and citizens. We are also collaborating with stakeholders to establish AI research and development centres, incubation hubs, and startup ecosystems to nurture homegrown AI talent.
In conclusion, the theme of this year’s conference, “Artificial Intelligence and Africa,” offers us a glimpse into the immense possibilities that lie ahead. AI holds the power to transform our societies, drive economic growth, and improve the well-being of our people. Let us seize this opportunity and work together to build an inclusive, sustainable, and AI-powered Africa.
Thank you, and I wish you a successful conference.
Prof. U.G Danbatta, FNSE, FRAES, FAEng, FNIEEE
Executive Vice Chairman/CEO
Nigerian Communications Commission
KEYNOTE SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE 11TH EDITION OF THE DIGITAL AFRICA CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION (DACE) FROM SEPTEMBER 19 – 21, 2023 AT REIZ CONTINENTAL HOTEL, ABUJA