Digital trade and AI regulation dominate Africa Law Tech Festival, 2023

July 17, 2023 - Reading Time: 4 minutes - By Waceera Kabando

The Lawyers Hub, in partnership with Mozilla Corporation, Luminate and French Development Agency, has since 2020 successfully organised the largest law and tech annual conference in Africa, Africa Law Tech Festival.  The conference attracts more than 2,000 delegates from across the globe with a reach of about 40 countries. The theme this year was “Digital trade: Accelerating AfCFTA for a single digital market.”  The two-day conference entailed multifaceted interactions around the theme. The pillars of the festival were grounded on E-Commerce Summit, Data Flows Summit, Digital Infrastructure Summit, Climate Trade Summit and the AI & Business Summit.

The welcome note was delivered by Alice Munyua, Senior Director, Africa Mradi Mozilla; Robert Karanja, Senior Director Co-Develop; Salome Eggler, Head of Programme, Digital Transformation Center GIZ Kenya and Linda Bonyo, CEO & Founder Lawyers Hub. From this, pertinent issues were highlighted. The first issue is that less than 10% of the startups in Kenya are actually African. Secondly, African venture capital in Africa is very low. In addition, what a healthy internet environment looks like for digital trade was explored. Thirdly, Africa cannot successfully trade within its borders without freedom of movement.

The keynote address and launch of the hackathon was given by Dr Amandeep Singh, the UN Secretary-General’s Tech Envoy, who proposed that an AI governing body should be established to protect human rights.

The festival included several activities including:

  1.       Panel Discussions (Africa Law Tech Summits)
  •         Legislating the Economy: Possible Learnings for the Digital Trade Agenda in the Context of National Frameworks to Implement AfCFTA. This was graced by Hon. Thoko Tembo, Member of Parliament – Malawi; Hon. Sam George, Member of Parliament – Ghana; Hon. Nusrat Hanje, Member of Parliament – Tanzania; Hon. Susan Dossi, Member of Parliament – Malawi; Hon. Damian Boeselager, Member of Parliament – European Union.
  •         Africa’s Digital Trade and the Alliance Opportunities present for the Continent with Data Commissioners in Africa attended by Immaculate Kassait, Data Commissioner Kenya, and Patricia Poku, Data Commissioner, Ghana.
  •         Presidents of Bar Associations in Africa were also present during the fireside chat on Ease of Doing Business: Scaling Businesses across Africa (Tools, Trends and Tech). They included Law Society of Kenya President, Eric Theuri; Uganda Law Society President, Bernard Oundo; Rwanda Bar Association President, Nkundabarashi Moïse; Tanganyika Law Society Vice President, Aisha Sinda; East Africa Law Society CEO, David Sigano; Burkina Faso Bar President, Siaka Niamba; Chad Bar President, Djerandi Laguerre Dionro; Guinea Bissau Bar President, Joao Bernardo Vieira; Central Africa Republic Bar President, Me Emile Bizon; Niger Bar President, Oumarou Sanda Kadri; Sao Tomé et Principe Bar President, Roberto Cotrim and Togo Bar President, Me Claude Folly Adama.
  1.       Workshops & Masterclasses (Africa Digital Policy Institute)
  •         GIZ Digital Transformation Centre Kenya hosted a masterclass on the Expectation Towards the AfCFTA Digital Trade Protocol: The Role of the AfCFTA as a Market Enabler for the Private Sector.
  •         Open Society Foundations took the lead on Litigating Data Rights; Judicial Interventions on Digital Markets, case reviews of Notable Determinations; Learnings and Opportunities.
  •         Nigeria Startup Act hosted the Startup Law Movement as a Building Block Towards AfCFTA: Taking Stock of Milestones, Misses and Opportunities.
  •         Datasphere Initiative hosted the workshop on ‘Building Cross-Border Sandboxes: Africa Forum on Sandboxes for Data’. The participants received a brief primer on digital integration on the continent and the role cross-border sandboxes can play in advancing it. There were perspectives from local partners and an opportunity to evaluate examples of certain data governance issues that transcend borders. In break-out rooms through a six-step process as outlined in the Sandboxes for Data report, the participants were tasked to build a cross-border sandbox aimed at addressing a pre-assigned data governance issue. At the end of the workshop, each group will present their findings and offer their reflections.
  1.       Hackathons (Africa Policy Hackathon)

The Hackathon was two-fold, policy and tech and explored the application of AI technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, and data analytics to tackle specific trade-related issues, including supply chain management, market intelligence, and trade facilitation.

The Hackathon addressed the following:

  •         Trade facilitation: Developing AI solutions to streamline customs procedures, automate documentation processes, and improve logistics and supply chain management.
  •         Market intelligence: Leveraging AI to analyse market trends, identify business opportunities, and provide actionable insights for businesses operating under the AfCFTA.
  •         Digital platforms: Creating AI-powered digital platforms that connect buyers and sellers, facilitate transactions, and promote cross-border trade within the AfCFTA.
  •         Policy and regulation: Exploring AI applications for monitoring compliance, enforcing standards, and ensuring fair competition within the AfCFTA framework.

The problem statements were framed as:

  1.           What is the AI governance framework on digital trade in Africa?
  2.       There is a large data gap in digital trade in Africa. What data do we need to create an observatory (web-based platform) on digital trade in Africa?

     iii.       How can we use AI to verify the credibility of resources shared on the observatory?

  1.   How can we capture data in real time? For example, there are 34 AI regulation acts in Africa (how do we use AI to auto-update this in real time?)

A cash price of up to USD 5,000 was on the table for the top three groups that came up with innovative and practical solutions. There were about 10 pitches presented ranging from cross-border trading solutions to language barrier AI-driven document translators.

  1.       Startup Alley (Africa Startup Law Accelerator)
  2.       Digital Rights Concert

Several key players gave their insights that paved the way for more conversations. Dr Alison Gillwald of Research ICT Africa pointed out how unprogressive it is for the African Union to adopt the World Trade Organisation’s policy instead of relying on a more transparent framework that is founded on trust. Dr Bright Gameli called for the sensitisation of stakeholders as a way to further trust in Digital Trade in light of Technological Advancement.

 “AI will not take away your job, someone skilled in AI technology will take away your job”

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