The AI project pushing local languages to replace French in Mali’s schools

Article by Annie Risemberg and Damilare Dosunmu: “For the past six months,Alou Dembele, a27-year-oldengineer and teacher, has spent his afternoons reading storybooks with children in the courtyard of a community school in Mali’s capital city, Bamako. The books are written in Bambara — Mali’s most widely spoken language — and include colorful pictures and stories based on local culture. Dembele has over 100 Bambara books to pick from — an unimaginable educational resource just a year ago.

From 1960 to 2023, French was Mali’s official language. But in June last year, the military government replaced it in favor of 13 local languages, creating a desperate need for new educational materials.

Artificial intelligence came to the rescue: RobotsMali, a government-backed initiative, used tools like ChatGPT, Google Translate, and free-to-use image-maker Playgroundto create a pool of 107 books in Bambara in less than a year. Volunteer teachers, like Dembele, distribute them through after-school classes. Within a year, the books have reached over 300 elementary school kids, according to RobotsMali’s co-founder, Michael Leventhal. They are not only helping bridge the gap created after French was dropped but could also be effective in helping children learn better, experts told Rest of World…(More)”.

10 Examples of Successful African e-Government Digital Services

Article by Wayan Vota: “African countries are implementing a diverse range of e-Government services, aiming to improve service delivery, enhance efficiency, and promote transparency. For example, common e-Government services in African countries include:

  • Online Government Portals: African countries are increasingly offering online services such as e-taxation, e-payment, and e-billing through online government portals, which allow citizens to access public services more efficiently and provide governments with prompt feedback on service quality.
  • Digital Identity Initiatives: Many African countries are working on digital identity initiatives to improve service delivery, including the introduction of national IDs with biometric data components to generate documents and provide services automatically, reducing paperwork and enhancing efficiency.
  • G2G, G2B, and G2C Activities: e-Government services to different groups, like Government-to-Government (G2G), Government-to-Business (G2B), and Government-to-Citizen (G2C) focuses on activities such as electoral processes, staff payroll payments, healthcare management systems, support for small businesses, and transparent procurement procedures…

Successful eGovernment initiatives in African countries have significantly improved government services and citizen engagement. These examples are part of a broader trend in Africa towards leveraging digital technologies to improve governance and public administration, with many countries making significant implementation progress…(More)”.

Towards an Inclusive Data Governance Policy for the Use of Artificial Intelligence in Africa

Paper by Jake Okechukwu Effoduh, Ugochukwu Ejike Akpudo and Jude Dzevela Kong: “This paper proposes five ideas that the design of data governance policies for the inclusive use of artificial intelligence (AI) in Africa should consider. The first is for African states to carry out an assessment of their domestic strategic priorities, strengths, and weaknesses. The second is a human-centric approach to data governance which involves data processing practices that protect security of personal data and privacy of data subjects; ensures that personal data is processed in a fair, lawful, and accountable manner; minimize the harmful effect of personal data misuse or abuse on data subjects and other victims; and promote a beneficial, trusted use of personal data. The third is for the data policy to be in alignment with supranational rights-respecting AI standards like the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the AU Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection. The fourth is for states to be critical about the extent that AI systems can be relied on in certain public sectors or departments. The fifth and final proposition is for the need to prioritize the use of representative and interoperable data and ensuring a transparent procurement process for AI systems from abroad where no local options exist…(More)”

AI often mangles African languages. Local scientists and volunteers are taking it back to school

Article by Sandeep Ravindran: “Imagine joyfully announcing to your Facebook friends that your wife gave birth, and having Facebook automatically translate your words to “my prostitute gave birth.” Shamsuddeen Hassan Muhammad, a computer science Ph.D. student at the University of Porto, says that’s what happened to a friend when Facebook’s English translation mangled the nativity news he shared in his native language, Hausa.

Such errors in artificial intelligence (AI) translation are common with African languages. AI may be increasingly ubiquitous, but if you’re from the Global South, it probably doesn’t speak your language.

That means Google Translate isn’t much help, and speech recognition tools such as Siri or Alexa can’t understand you. All of these services rely on a field of AI known as natural language processing (NLP), which allows AI to “understand” a language. The overwhelming majority of the world’s 7000 or so languages lack data, tools, or techniques for NLP, making them “low-resourced,” in contrast with a handful of “high-resourced” languages such as English, French, German, Spanish, and Chinese.

Hausa is the second most spoken African language, with an estimated 60 million to 80 million speakers, and it’s just one of more than 2000 African languages that are mostly absent from AI research and products. The few products available don’t work as well as those for English, notes Graham Neubig, an NLP researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s not the people who speak the languages making the technology.” More often the technology simply doesn’t exist. “For example, now you cannot talk to Siri in Hausa, because there is no data set to train Siri,” Muhammad says.

He is trying to fill that gap with a project he co-founded called HausaNLP, one of several launched within the past few years to develop AI tools for African languages…(More)”.

Crafting the future: involving young people in urban design

Article by Alastair Bailey: “About 60 per cent of urban populations will be under 18 years of age by 2030, according to UN Habitat, but attempts to involve young people in the design of their cities remain in their infancy. Efforts to enlist this generation have often floundered due to a range of problems — not least an unwillingness to listen to their needs.

“The actual involvement of young people in planning is negligible” says Simeon Shtebunaev, a Birmingham City University doctoral researcher in youth and town planning and researcher at urban social enterprise Social Life. However, new technologies offer a way forward. Digitisation has come to be seen as a “panacea to youth engagement” in many cities, notes Shtebunaev.

Hargeisa, the largest city of Somaliland in the Horn of Africa and home to 1.5mn people, has already been demonstrating what can be achieved by digitally engaging with young people — notably through the Minecraft video game. This enables users to design and build structures in a manner similar to expensive 3D modelling software.

Despite large-scale reconstruction, the city still bears the scars of the 1981-91 civil war, during which former Somalian dictator Said Barre sought to wipe out members of the city’s dominant Isaaq clan to enforce his own rule. Up to an estimated 200,000 Isaaq died.

In September 2019, though, “Urban Visioning Week” brought Hargeisa residents together over five days to discuss the city’s future as part of the UN’s Joint Programme on Local Governance. The aim was for residents to identify the city’s problems and what improvements they felt were needed…(More)”.

Valuing Data: The Role of Satellite Data in Halting the Transmission of Polio in Nigeria

Article by Mariel Borowitz, Janet Zhou, Krystal Azelton & Isabelle-Yara Nassar: “There are more than 1,000 satellites in orbit right now collecting data about what’s happening on the Earth. These include government and commercial satellites that can improve our understanding of climate change; monitor droughts, floods, and forest fires; examine global agricultural output; identify productive locations for fishing or mining; and many other purposes. We know the data provided by these satellites is important, yet it is very difficult to determine the exact value that each of these systems provides. However, with only a vague sense of “value,” it is hard for policymakers to ensure they are making the right investments in Earth observing satellites.

NASA’s Consortium for the Valuation of Applications Benefits Linked with Earth Science (VALUABLES), carried out in collaboration with Resources for the Future, aimed to address this by analyzing specific use cases of satellite data to determine their monetary value. VALUABLES proposed a “value of information” approach focusing on cases in which satellite data informed a specific decision. Researchers could then compare the outcome of that decision with what would have occurredif no satellite data had been available. Our project, which was funded under the VALUABLES program, examined how satellite data contributed to efforts to halt the transmission of Polio in Nigeria…(More)”

Data Governance and Policy in Africa

This open access book edited by Bitange Ndemo, Njuguna Ndung’u, Scholastica Odhiambo and Abebe Shimeles: “…examines data governance and its implications for policymaking in Africa. Bringing together economists, lawyers, statisticians, and technology experts, it assesses gaps in both the availability and use of existing data across the continent, and argues that data creation, management and governance need to improve if private and public sectors are to reap the benefits of big data and digital technologies. It also considers lessons from across the globe to assess principles, norms and practices that can guide the development of data governance in Africa….(More)”.

Public Policy and Technological Transformations in Africa

Book edited by Gedion Onyango: “This book examines the links between public policy and Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technological developments in Africa. It broadly assesses three key areas – policy entrepreneurship, policy tools and citizen participation – in order to better understand the interfaces between public policy and technological transformations in African countries. The book presents incisive case studies on topics including AI policies, mobile money, e-budgeting, digital economy, digital agriculture and digital ethical dilemmas in order to illuminate technological proliferation in African policy systems. Its analysis considers the broader contexts of African state politics and governance. It will appeal to students, instructors, researchers and practitioners interested in governance and digital transformations in developing countries…(More)”.

Weather Warning Inequity: Lack of Data Collection Stations Imperils Vulnerable People

Article by Chelsea Harvey: “Devastating floods and landslides triggered by extreme downpours killed hundreds of people in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in May, when some areas saw more than 7 inches of rain in a day.

Climate change is intensifying rainstorms throughout much of the world, yet scientists haven’t been able to show that the event was influenced by warming.

That’s because they don’t have enough data to investigate it.

Weather stations are sparse across Africa, making it hard for researchers to collect daily information on rainfall and other weather variables. The data that does exist often isn’t publicly available.

“The main issue in some countries in Africa is funding,” said Izidine Pinto, a senior researcher on weather and climate at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. “The meteorological offices don’t have enough funding.”

There’s often too little money to build or maintain weather stations, and strapped-for-cash governments often choose to sell the data they do collect rather than make it free to researchers.

That’s a growing problem as the planet warms and extreme weather worsens. Reliable forecasts are needed for early warning systems that direct people to take shelter or evacuate before disasters strike. And long-term climate data is necessary for scientists to build computer models that help make predictions about the future.

The science consortium World Weather Attribution is the latest research group to run into problems. It investigates the links between climate change and individual extreme weather events all over the globe. In the last few months alone, the organization has demonstrated the influence of global warming on extreme heat in South Asia and the Mediterranean, floods in Italy, and drought in eastern Africa.

Most of its research finds that climate change is making weather events more likely to occur or more intense.

The group recently attempted to investigate the influence of climate change on the floods in Rwanda and Congo. But the study was quickly mired in challenges.

The team was able to acquire some weather station data, mainly in Rwanda, Joyce Kimutai, a research associate at Imperial College London and a co-author of the study, said at a press briefing announcing the findings Thursday. But only a few stations provided sufficient data, making it impossible to define the event or to be certain that climate model simulations were accurate…(More)”.

An algorithm intended to reduce poverty in Jordan disqualifies people in need

Article by Tate Ryan-Mosley: “An algorithm funded by the World Bank to determine which families should get financial assistance in Jordan likely excludes people who should qualify, according to an investigation published this morning by Human Rights Watch. 

The algorithmic system, called Takaful, ranks families applying for aid from least poor to poorest using a secret calculus that assigns weights to 57 socioeconomic indicators. Applicants say that the calculus is not reflective of reality, however, and oversimplifies people’s economic situation, sometimes inaccurately or unfairly. Takaful has cost over $1 billion, and the World Bank is funding similar projects in eight other countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

Human Rights Watch identified several fundamental problems with the algorithmic system that resulted in bias and inaccuracies. Applicants are asked how much water and electricity they consume, for example, as two of the indicators that feed into the ranking system. The report’s authors conclude that these are not necessarily reliable indicators of poverty. Some families interviewed believed the fact that they owned a car affected their ranking, even if the car was old and necessary for transportation to work. 

The report reads, “This veneer of statistical objectivity masks a more complicated reality: the economic pressures that people endure and the ways they struggle to get by are frequently invisible to the algorithm.”..(More)”.