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AI And The African Vote: A Double-Edged Sword in the Quest for Democracy

In 2024, a year marked by a global political crescendo, the African continent stands at a crossroads. With over two billion people’s fates intertwined with the outcomes of elections, the integrity of democracy is under the microscope as never before.

As the year progresses, more than 70 countries will have cast their ballots in regional or national elections. Amidst this democratic fervour, the spectre of information pollution from the US and Chinese tech giants casts a long shadow, shaping the electoral landscape.

Yet, the emergence of artificial intelligence, particularly generative AI like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, has catapulted into the technological mainstream, stirring both awe and anxiety.

The tech industry, often seen as the harbinger of progress, paradoxically fuels the fire of AI scepticism, contributing to a narrative of technological doom.

In Africa, this narrative gains complexity as AI-powered technologies—algorithms, deepfakes, bots, and data manipulation—become central players in the electoral arena, amplifying the already tense political climate.

Rindai Chipfunde Vava, chairperson of ESN-SA, captures the essence of this technological tide: “As the AI appetite grows within African elections, it is crucial to forge partnerships with international cyber experts, contributing to discourse and implementation.” She envisions AI as a tool to navigate uncharted waters, aiming for transparent, inclusive, and secure elections.

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Yet, Africa’s tryst with AI has been sluggish, lagging behind global tech advancements. This disparity raises alarms about the potential for a widening technological chasm, with AI adoption becoming a yardstick for institutional strength or vulnerability.

The continent’s political institutions grapple with a delicate balance: the allure of emerging technologies against the risk of eroding established structures. The dual nature of technology is evident—drones promise humanitarian aid but also pose security threats if misused.

In response, the African Union (AU) has crafted a mandate to foster democracy, with strategic documents like the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance championing transparency and trust.

The AU Declaration on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Changes of Government in Africa acknowledges the link between technology and extremism, advocating for robust cybersecurity measures and responsible social media use to combat terrorism.

These initiatives underscore the pivotal role of informed citizen participation in electoral processes, which is essential for sustainable human development. As AI continues to shape the political narrative, Africa’s journey towards democracy remains a delicate dance between embracing innovation and safeguarding its democratic ethos.

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Multi-award winning journalist/photojournalist with keen interests in politics, youth, child rights, women and development issues. Follow Lovejoy On Twitter @L_JayMut

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