Africa must embrace, drive artificial intelligence, says Okonjo-Iweala

Former Finance Minister of Finance and member of the Twitter Board, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has urged African governments and relevant institutions to focus on the implementation of policies that will put the continent at the heart of the rapid technological changes that are sweeping the world.

According to Okonjo-Iweala, these changes should be embraced, not resisted, because science and technology is a game changer that can help Africa overcome and thrive in spite of poverty and other great challenges besetting the continent.

Speaking at the eight Commencement (Convocation) ceremony of the African University of Science and Technology (AUST), Abuja yesterday, Okonjo-Iweala said:
“Artificial intelligence and other forms of technological advances will underpin the future of the world’s development at a time of macroeconomic uncertainties, trade wars and geopolitical tensions and, most of all, rapid technological change. This is something that we cannot stop. These changes are happening rapidly and will continue to happen.”

Okonjo-Iweala, who is also the Chair of the AUST Board urged the audience, including the graduating 82 Masters and seven Ph.D holders to see themselves as part of the vanguard for Africa’s technological development.

“There is a great push globally to see what AI and robotics can do to help manage the world. We can’t stop it, it is going to infuse everything we do. We’re going to have driverless cars whether we like it or not, we’re going to have robots trying to do a lot of the work that people normally would do and it will come down to us. But we need not be afraid of the arrival of technological change, I believe strongly that Africa can use it to thrive and prosper and that we should be at the vanguard of using AI to solve some of those logistical, infrastructural and skills problems which we’ve not been able to solve.”

The former minister stressed that with 434 Masters and 31 PhD graduates from 18 African countries in its 12 years of existence, the institution whose establishment was inspired by Nelson Mandela vision of a youth-led technological renaissance in Africa is making solid progress in achieving its mission.

Okonjo-Iweala revealed that, also in line with the Mandela vision, 80% of AUST alumni are retained on the continent, working and teaching in important institutions and private sector organizations. About half of AUST’s graduates come from Nigeria, its host.

Convocation Speaker, Dr Acha Leke, who spoke extensively on the same broad theme reminded the graduating students of the enormity of the challenges confronting Africa and urged them to accept the historic challenge of deploying their knowledge and skills to Africa’s benefit:

“Africa is on the move indeed, but we still have a long way to go. 600 million Africans still live in the dark today – with no access to electricity. We have huge infrastructure deficits which will require us to double our investments to close the gap. In Nigeria alone, 20 million homes need to be built. 13 million children need to be put back into school. And 80 million people need to be lifted out of poverty.
Who is going to do all this for us? The answer is no one else will but us. Others can help and many will help. But at the end of the day we as Africans will have to fix our own problems.”

Present at the Convocation event were a host of notable academic and other notables including Deputy Chair of the AUST Board and former UNILAG Vice-Chancellor, Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe, AUST President, Professor Charles Chidume and a host of others.


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