Exploring data journalism practices in Africa: data politics, media ecosystems and newsroom infrastructures

Paper by Sarah Chiumbu and Allen Munoriyarwa: “Extant research on data journalism in Africa has focused on newsroom factors and the predilections of individual journalists as determinants of the uptake of data journalism on the continent. This article diverts from this literature by examining the slow uptake of data journalism in sub- Saharan Africa through the prisms of non-newsroom factors. Drawing on in-depth interviews with prominent investigative journalists sampled from several African countries, we argue that to understand the slow uptake of data journalism on the continent; there is a need to critique the role of data politics, which encompasses state, market and existing media ecosystems across the continent. Therefore, it is necessary to move beyond newsroom-centric factors that have dominated the contemporary understanding of data journalism practices. A broader, non-newsroom conceptualisation beyond individual journalistic predilections and newsroom resources provides productive clarity on data journalism’s slow uptake on the continent. These arguments are made through the conceptual prisms of materiality, performativity and reflexivity…(More)”.

Responsible AI in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities

Open Access Book edited by Damian Okaibedi Eke, Kutoma Wakunuma, and Simisola Akintoye: “In the last few years, a growing and thriving AI ecosystem has emerged in Africa. Within this ecosystem, there are local tech spaces as well as a number of internationally driven technology hubs and centres established by big tech companies such as Twitter, Google, Facebook, Alibaba Group, Huawei, Amazon and Microsoft have significantly increased the development and deployment of AI systems in Africa. While these tech spaces and hubs are focused on using AI to meet local challenges (e.g. poverty, illiteracy, famine, corruption, environmental disasters, terrorism and health crisis), the ethical, legal and socio-cultural implications of AI in Africa have largely been ignored. To ensure that Africans benefit from the attendant gains of AI, ethical, legal and socio-cultural impacts of AI need to be robustly considered and mitigated…(More)”.

The ethics of artificial intelligence, UNESCO and the African Ubuntu perspective

Paper by Dorine Eva van Norren: “This paper aims to demonstrate the relevance of worldviews of the global south to debates of artificial intelligence, enhancing the human rights debate on artificial intelligence (AI) and critically reviewing the paper of UNESCO Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) that preceded the drafting of the UNESCO guidelines on AI. Different value systems may lead to different choices in programming and application of AI. Programming languages may acerbate existing biases as a people’s worldview is captured in its language. What are the implications for AI when seen from a collective ontology? Ubuntu (I am a person through other persons) starts from collective morals rather than individual ethics…

Metaphysically, Ubuntu and its conception of social personhood (attained during one’s life) largely rejects transhumanism. When confronted with economic choices, Ubuntu favors sharing above competition and thus an anticapitalist logic of equitable distribution of AI benefits, humaneness and nonexploitation. When confronted with issues of privacy, Ubuntu emphasizes transparency to group members, rather than individual privacy, yet it calls for stronger (group privacy) protection. In democratic terms, it promotes consensus decision-making over representative democracy. Certain applications of AI may be more controversial in Africa than in other parts of the world, like care for the elderly, that deserve the utmost respect and attention, and which builds moral personhood. At the same time, AI may be helpful, as care from the home and community is encouraged from an Ubuntu perspective. The report on AI and ethics of the UNESCO World COMEST formulated principles as input, which are analyzed from the African ontological point of view. COMEST departs from “universal” concepts of individual human rights, sustainability and good governance which are not necessarily fully compatible with relatedness, including future and past generations. Next to rules based approaches, which may hamper diversity, bottom-up approaches are needed with intercultural deep learning algorithms…(More)”.

Citizen science tackles plastics in Ghana

Interview with Dilek Fraisl and Omar Seidu by Stephanie Olen: “An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste leaks into the ocean every year, and Ghana generates approximately 1.1 million tonnes of plastics per year. This is due to the substantial economic growth that Ghana has experienced in recent years, as well as the 2.2% population growth annually, which has urged the Ghanaian authorities to act. Ghana was the first African country to join the Global Plastic Action Partnership in 2019. Ghana also has a growing and active citizen science beach clean-up community including one of our project partners, the Smart Nature Freak Youth Volunteers Foundation (SNFYVF).

Before our work, Ghana had no official data available related to marine plastic litter. Based on the data collected through citizen science initiatives in the country and our project ‘Citizen Science for the SDGs in Ghana’ (CS4SDGs), we now know that in 2020 alone more than 152 million plastic items were found along the beaches in the country…

One of the key factors for the success of our project was due to Ghana’s progressive approach to the use of new sources of data for official statistics. For example, the Ghanaian Government passed the new Statistical Service Act in 2019, which mandates the GSS to coordinate statistical information across the whole government system, develop and raise awareness of codes of ethics and practices to produce data, and include new sources of data as a valid input for production of official statistics. This shows that the effective legal arrangements can prepare the groundwork for citizen science data to be used as official statistics and for SDG monitoring and reporting. Political commitment from the partners in Ghana also helped to achieve success. Ultimately, without the support of citizen science and action groups in the country that actually collected the litter and the data on the ground, this project would have never been successful. Since the start, citizen scientists have been willing to work with the government agencies and international partners, as well as other key stakeholders to support our project, which played a significant role in achieving our result…(More)”.

Does South Africa’s Proposed State Ownership of Data Make Any Sense?

Paper by Enyinna S. Nwauche: “This paper interrogates the proposed state ownership of data by South Africa’s Draft National Cloud and Data Policy 2021 and argues that the quest for state ownership is evidence of South Africa’s policy preference for the state custodianship of critical natural resources. The paper suggests that a preferred reading of the proposed state ownership is the affirmation of a regulatory space to address issues related to the digital economy. This paper further suggests that regulatory oversight is inconsistent with the proposed state ownership because of the multi-dimensional nature of data and the fact that data is constitutional property. Rather than seek state ownership of data, the paper examines how to strike a delicate balance between the rights of citizens over data, such as privacy and the data use by companies who are recognized by South African Law to be entitled to some protection of privacy; intellectual property rights and confidential information. The paper sketches a framework of the balance in data governance in South Africa by reviewing jurisprudence that enables South Africa assert appropriate regulatory oversight through laws policies and institutions that enhance her digital economy…(More)”.

The Participation Paradox

Book by  Luke Sinwell: “The last two decades have ushered in what has become known as a participatory revolution, with consultants, advisors, and non-profits called into communities, classrooms, and corporations alike to listen to ordinary people. With exclusively bureaucratic approaches no longer en vogue, authorities now opt for “open” forums for engagement.

In The Participation Paradox Luke Sinwell argues that amplifying the voices of the poor and dispossessed is often a quick fix incapable of delivering concrete and lasting change. The ideology of public consultation and grassroots democracy can be a smokescreen for a cost-effective means by which to implement top-down decisions. As participation has become mainstreamed by governments around the world, so have its radical roots become tamed by neoliberal forces that reinforce existing relationships of power. Drawing from oral testimonies and ethnographic research, Sinwell presents a case study of one of the poorest and most defiant Black informal settlements in Johannesburg, South Africa – Thembelihle, which consists of more than twenty thousand residents – highlighting the promises and pitfalls of participatory approaches to development.

Providing a critical lens for understanding grassroots democracy, The Participation Paradox foregrounds alternatives capable of reclaiming participation’s emancipatory potential…(More)”.

Supporting peace negotiations in the Yemen war through machine learning

Paper by Miguel Arana-Catania, Felix-Anselm van Lier and Rob Procter: “Today’s conflicts are becoming increasingly complex, fluid, and fragmented, often involving a host of national and international actors with multiple and often divergent interests. This development poses significant challenges for conflict mediation, as mediators struggle to make sense of conflict dynamics, such as the range of conflict parties and the evolution of their political positions, the distinction between relevant and less relevant actors in peace-making, or the identification of key conflict issues and their interdependence. International peace efforts appear ill-equipped to successfully address these challenges. While technology is already being experimented with and used in a range of conflict related fields, such as conflict predicting or information gathering, less attention has been given to how technology can contribute to conflict mediation. This case study contributes to emerging research on the use of state-of-the-art machine learning technologies and techniques in conflict mediation processes. Using dialogue transcripts from peace negotiations in Yemen, this study shows how machine-learning can effectively support mediating teams by providing them with tools for knowledge management, extraction and conflict analysis. Apart from illustrating the potential of machine learning tools in conflict mediation, the article also emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary and participatory, cocreation methodology for the development of context-sensitive and targeted tools and to ensure meaningful and responsible implementation…(More)”.

Academic freedom and democracy in African countries: the first study to track the connection

Article by Liisa Laakso: “There is growing interest in the state of academic freedom worldwide. A 1997 Unesco document defines it as the right of scholars to teach, discuss, research, publish, express opinions about systems and participate in academic bodies. Academic freedom is a cornerstone of education and knowledge.

Yet there is surprisingly little empirical research on the actual impact of academic freedom. Comparable measurements have also been scarce. It was only in 2020 that a worldwide index of academic freedom was launched by the Varieties of Democracy database, V-Dem, in collaboration with the Scholars at Risk Network….

My research has been on the political science discipline in African universities and its role in political developments on the continent. As part of this project, I have investigated the impact of academic freedom in the post-Cold War democratic transitions in Africa.

study I published with the Tunisian economist Hajer Kratou showed that academic freedom has a significant positive effect on democracy, when democracy is measured by indicators such as the quality of elections and executive accountability.

However, the time factor is significant. Countries with high levels of academic freedom before and at the time of their democratic transition showed high levels of democracy even 5, 10 and 15 years later. In contrast, the political situation was more likely to deteriorate in countries where academic freedom was restricted at the time of transition. The impact of academic freedom was greatest in low-income countries….(More)”

Africa: regulate surveillance technologies and personal data

Bulelani Jili in Nature: “…For more than a decade, African governments have installed thousands of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and surveillance devices across cities, along with artificial-intelligence (AI) systems for facial recognition and other uses. Such technologies are often part of state-led initiatives to reduce crime rates and strengthen national security against terrorism. For instance, in Uganda in 2019, Kampala’s police force procured digital cameras and facial-recognition technology worth US$126 million to help it address a rise in homicides and kidnappings (see go.nature.com/3nx2tfk).

However, digital surveillance tools also raise privacy concerns. Citizens, academics and activists in Kampala contend that these tools, if linked to malicious spyware and malware programs, could be used to track and target citizens. In August 2019, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal found that Ugandan intelligence officials had used spyware to penetrate encrypted communications from the political opposition leader Bobi Wine1.

Around half of African countries have laws on data protection. But these are often outdated and lack clear enforcement mechanisms and strategies for secure handling of biometric data, including face, fingerprint and voice records. Inspections, safeguards and other standards for monitoring goods and services that use information and communications technology (ICT) are necessary to address cybersecurity and privacy risks.

The African Union has begun efforts to create a continent-wide legislative framework on this topic. As of March this year, only 13 of the 55 member states have ratified its 2014 Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection; 15 countries must do so before it can take effect. Whereas nations grappling with food insecurity, conflict and inequality might not view cybersecurity as a priority, some, such as Ghana, are keen to address this vulnerability so that they can expand their information societies.

The risks of using surveillance technologies in places with inadequate laws are great, however, particularly in a region with established problems at the intersections of inequality, crime, governance, race, corruption and policing. Without robust checks and balances, I contend, such tools could encourage political repression, particularly in countries with a history of human-rights violations….(More)”.

Building a Data Infrastructure for the Bioeconomy

Article by Gopal P. Sarma and Melissa Haendel: “While the development of vaccines for COVID-19 has been widely lauded, other successful components of the national response to the pandemic have not received as much attention. The National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C), for example, flew under the public’s radar, even though it aggregated crucial US public health data about the new disease through cross-institutional collaborations among government, private, and nonprofit health and research organizations. These data, which were made available to researchers via cutting-edge software tools, have helped in myriad ways: they led to identification of the clinical characteristics of acute COVID-19 for risk prediction, assisted in providing clinical care for immunocompromised adults, revealed how COVID infection affects children, and documented that vaccines appear to reduce the risk of developing long COVID.

N3C has created the largest national, publicly available patient-level dataset in US history. Through a unique public-private partnership, over 300 participating organizations quickly overcame privacy concerns and data silos to include 13 million patient records in the project. More than 3,000 participating scientists are now working to overcome the particular challenge faced in the United States—the lack of a national healthcare data infrastructure available in many other countries—to support public health and medical responses. N3C shows great promise for unraveling answers to questions related to COVID, but it could easily be expanded for many areas of public health, including pandemic preparedness and monitoring disease status across the population.

As public servants dedicated to improving public health and equity, we believe that to unite the nation’s fragmented public health system, the United States should establish a standing capacity to collect, harmonize, and sustain a wide range of data types and sources. The public health data collected by N3C would ultimately be but one component of a rich landscape of interoperable data systems that can guide public policy in an era of rapid environmental change, sophisticated biological threats, and an economy enabled by biotechnology. Such an effort will require new thinking about data collection, infrastructure, and regulation, but its benefits could be enormous—enabling policymakers to make decisions in an increasingly complex world. And as the interconnections between society, industry, and government continue to intensify, decisionmaking of all types and scales will be more efficient and responsive if it can rely on significantly expanded data collection and analysis capabilities…(More)”.