TechCabal, a pan-African tech publication, took Moonshot Conversations to Kenya, where panellists discussed various aspects of AI innovation and policy in Africa and the importance of representation and infrastructure.

After winding up from an intense Africa Tech Summit in Nairobi, Big Cabal Media (BCM), the parent company of TechCabal, hosted Moonshot Conversations, a mini-series of its flagship Moonshot by TechCabal conference in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The first-ever physical Moonshot Conversations, held in Nairobi, explored the state of artificial intelligence (AI) in Africa and the continent’s potential for AI solutions but acknowledged challenges, such as limited expertise and data scarcity in training AI. 

The event brought together media personalities, founders, policymakers, and technology lovers in Kenya and East Africa. The panel explored innovative ideas in AI and tech policy in Africa and was moderated by Tomiwa Aladekomo, CEO of BCM. Panellists included Nanjira Sambuli, a policy analyst and strategist, alongside Irene Mwendwa, executive director at Pollicy, and John Kamara, founder and CEO of Adanian Labs. 

Irene Mwendwa, analyst and Pllicy and Tomiwa Aladekomo, Big Cabal Media CEO

Kicking off the discussion, Aladekomo asked, “What is the current state of AI in Africa?” To answer this, Sambuli said that innovation in Africa’s tech industry had evolved from mobile to AI and data contribution from smartphone users, “We have to figure out whether we’re talking about this as if it’s a brand new thing, or if it’s coming in as a continuum because then that helps us contextualise in one regard. In a sense, anybody who has a smartphone is innovating for AI because we are feeding data to what is coming to the end of things. We are seeing that evolve into innovation.”

Mwendwa and Kamara highlighted the complex innovation landscape and challenges surrounding AI in Africa. The panellists rallied for progress beyond the current focus on financial solutions in the tech industry. They also pushed for diverse offerings from all players for a more inclusive and representative ecosystem.

Still, AI innovation in Africa faces several hurdles. The extra focus on generative AI without proper assessment of resources and data creates limitations. Besides the political complexities surrounding digital health and AI, the lack of inclusivity in conversations and decision-making poses significant challenges. Kamara noted by saying, “We talk about AI and innovation. And it sounds like technology is where it’s at. But ultimately, everything ends up being one political, and then human. And so you got to pull things back there. But, again, because I’d love for this to be more solution-oriented.”

John Kamara, CEO, Adanian Labs

To this point, it was clear that while Africa embraces AI, challenges remain. Limited local expertise, scarce data, and ethical concerns create roadblocks. More reliable infrastructure and clear regulations further hinder progress. However, Africa’s unique challenges present an opportunity to leapfrog other regions by developing customised AI solutions for pressing issues like agriculture, healthcare, and education.

The session also acknowledged the inadequate infrastructure and public investment in science and technology which hinders progress. Robust regulation and policy frameworks tailored to the African context are essential for responsible and ethical AI adoption. Per Mwendwa, “There should be some national infrastructure. And the history of tech shows us that public investment has been a big determinant of any takeoff.”

Attendees at Moonshot Conversations in Nairobi

Despite the challenges, opportunities abound. Africa has the potential to become a leader in public interest technologies, particularly AI, by establishing strong public procurement mechanisms. Empowering women in the field and bridging the gender gap in tech is crucial for inclusive development.

Moonshot Conversations aims to be more pan-African as it seeks to drive key dialogue around innovation and provide solutions to existing technology-based challenges. You can watch a round-up of the event here.

Moonshot by TechCabal/TechCabal

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