By: Dolly Menas
Prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila says the government recognises that if the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is not analysed and studied appropriately, it can widen the inequality chasm and can materially diminish the ability of Namibians to grab the opportunities presented by the 4IR.
She said this at the Southern African sub-regional forum on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Windhoek on Thursday.
The forum was organised by the Namibian government in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to provide a mapping for the development and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and to discuss key issues, challenges, and opportunities for the application of AI in Southern Africa.
“The Namibian Government is well aware that the potential benefits of the 4IR and by extension, artificial intelligence, can only be realised if the current challenges around access to the internet, technology and infrastructure shortfalls, and quality of education are urgently addressed,” she says.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila also said Africa still lags behind other countries in internet and technology access, infrastructure, and education, despite the efforts put in place by different member countries.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said that in recognition of the significance of the inflection point, the national 4IR country assessment was commissioned to ascertain Namibia’s digital labour profile, reskilling requirements, and the impact of AI on labour force dynamics and the future of work.
“Africa is endowed with a large workforce that will need to be re-skilled to adapt to the new reality that artificial intelligence and other advancements in technology and innovation will bring about. We should, therefore, actively leverage our collective capacities as nations and institutions within the region by embracing the culture of collaboration,” said Kuugongelwa-Amadhila.
She said that the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent prolonged global economic downturn have reaffirmed the need for inclusive, agile, and smart governance frameworks that are responsive to the need for efficient public service delivery.
She adds that strategic partnerships between governments, academic institutions, and industry will allow for the development of critical skills to move the continent forward.
“Industry, public sector, and academia collaborations are fundamental to creating a thriving artificial intelligence ecosystem in Africa.”
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila stressed that in line with the global sustainable development goals, artificial intelligence will play a critical role in efforts to reduce poverty, and inequality, revolutionising education systems, improve healthcare systems, ensure innovation-driven development, as well as advancing gender equality and inclusion.
“The time is now for our continent to harness the benefits of efficient allocation of resources to increase productivity and improve service,” she said.
“We should build systems which are ethically compliant, reliable, accountable, secured at all levels to ensure data privacy and security.”
Speaking at the same event, higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi said that the forum comes at the heels of the country’s 4IR readiness assessment exercise.
“This assessment compelled us to closely look into general AI awareness of the users, requisite skills and competences; infrastructure; relevant policy framework; identification and prioritisation of sectors to drive and benefit from the sustainable use of AI,” she said.
She expressed that scholars, academics, researchers, and industry are better placed together to assist nations in the subregion to identify country-specific and common challenges that are amenable to AI solutions.
She added that the government and other stakeholders need to move forward together to develop a responsive policy framework and national strategies that will put AI-driven solutions for Africa into motion.
“Therefore, harnessing the global partnerships across all our key sectors in the SADC region and beyond is imperative,” she stamped.
Kandjii-Murangi said Namibia requires a holistic approach to harvest the full potential of AI for Africa’s good and beyond.
In conclusion, Kandjii-Murangi reiterates the mandate of the SADC governments and the support structures toward building strong AI governance frameworks to enable the development of sustainable AI solutions that can address development challenges within the nations.