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Algorithmic Apartheid in Africa: A Call to Prioritize Fair AI



In our increasingly digital world, the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) is undeniably

pervasive, permeating every facet of our lives. As African governments look on to adopt

these technologies, they may fail to recognize an unsettling and insidious issue surfacing:

algorithmic apartheid. This phenomenon is particularly relevant in the African context, where

the implications of algorithmic bias are exacerbated by preexisting inequalities. In this article,

we delve into the concept of algorithmic apartheid in Africa, emphasizing the pressing need

to prioritize fair AI in the region.


One striking aspect of algorithmic apartheid in Africa is that the most promising and

influential AI technologies are predominantly developed outside the continent. Tech giants

from Silicon Valley and other technology hubs around the world are at the forefront of AI

development. While these technologies have the potential to bring substantial benefits, the

imposition of external AI systems in our societies may carry inherited biases, disrupt

established societal norms, question cultural values, and potentially lead to cultural erosion

and resistance. This disconnect between technology developed outside Africa and its impact

on the continent raises critical concerns.


As AI technologies influence various aspects of African life, including education, healthcare,

and job markets, there is a risk of undermining the rich local context. These technologies,

often designed with Western perspectives in mind, provide one-size-fits-all solutions to

complex problems encouraging blind faith in these systems. This in turn can lead to

overreliance and the assumption that they can seamlessly address Africa's diverse and unique

challenges. In reality, AI systems often inherit biases from their training data, reading

between the lines of data and unintentionally adopting the unfair and unjust biases within

them or even those from the developers themselves. They must be scrutinized and adapted to

fit African contexts, rather than being embraced uncritically which is vital to avoid falling

into the trap of blind faith.


AI systems must be designed and adapted to accommodate the unique nuances of African

societies and other large underrepresented and overlooked communities within the Global

south. The blind application of off-the-shelf AI solutions can lead to detrimental

consequences with contextual understanding and engagements with local experts as the main

solution to ensure AI aligns with the region's specific needs.


Algorithmic apartheid in Africa is a complex challenge that requires a multifaceted approach

to mitigate its negative impact. It is crucial to recognize that AI is not a universal panacea for

all societal problems. While AI technologies have made remarkable progress, they are not

immune to human error, human biases, limitations, and context-specific requirements. As

technology continues to play a central role in our lives, addressing these issues is not just a

matter of fairness; it's a critical step towards fostering inclusive, equitable, and sustainable

development across the continent. Only by embracing AI that respects the societal values and

acknowledges the necessity for context-specific solutions can we truly harness the benefits of

this transformative technology without compromising cultural integrity or perpetuating

inequalities.


- EKM

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