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AI is entrenching systemic racism with its algorithms

Not everyone is winning in Kenya’s battle for tech talent. Even as Kenya added an estimated 2,000 new developers to its tech talent pool in 2021, startups and telcos are struggling to retain talent.

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Reuters/Luc Gnago
Africa’s digital economy is taking off
This story was published on our Quartz Africa Weekly newsletter, News and culture from around the continent.
  • Ciku Kimeria
By Ciku Kimeria

I tell African stories

Published

Hi Quartz Africa readers,

I spent the better part of this week reflecting on why artificial intelligence (AI) treats Africans and people of color unfairly. First, I searched for “ear” on Google Images and almost all results were of white skin tones. I repeated the search with “leg” and only white legs appeared.

Tech has historically been a very white, male-dominated space and data representing white and male populations—rather than the wider user base—have become the default in building machine learning models. People of color continue to experience internet bias because global tech giants don’t have enough senior staff fighting for inclusion in the company’s AI algorithmic training.

Even those who attain leadership roles in the industry can struggle to achieve results. For example, Ethiopian-born US AI scientist Timnit Gebru believes she was pushed out of her role as co-lead of Google’s Ethical AI unit for calling out algorithmic bias.

In a moderate sign of progress in regulating AI, Google quietly banned deep fake algorithms from its machine learning generator Colab last month. I will keep tabs on how Google plans to implement a new skin tone scale unveiled during its I/O event in May. It might not erase online racism, but it’s a small step in the right direction. —Faustine Ngila, east Africa correspondent


By the digits

The quest to revolutionize remittances
Image copyright: Quartz

$49 billion: Remittance inflows to sub-Saharan Africa in 2021, up 14% from pandemic-ravaged 2020

7.8%: Average cost of remittances to sub-Saharan Africa in the fourth quarter of 2021, the highest in the world

800,000: Estimated size of Nigeria’s migrant population, primarily in the UK (220,000) and US (375,000). Nigeria consistently records the highest remittance inflows on the continent.

6.7%: Cost of remitting money from the US to Kenya in 2021

80%: Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the $12.7 billion in international remittances sent and received via mobile devices in 2020

A chart showing remittances to African countries in 2021

Learn more about Nala, a Tanzania-based startup that is revolutionizing remittances in Africa, in the most recent edition of the Quartz Africa Member Brief. To get the Member Brief directly in your inbox, become a member for less than $1 a week.


Stories this week

American Express ventures into Africa. The strategic arm of the card payments network made its first investment in an African tech startup. Unsurprisingly, it is in a Nigerian fintech company, Alexander Onukwue reports.

The future of tech in east Africa is female. Long known as a boys’ club, technology in east Africa is now seeing more women rising to powerful roles. Faustine Ngila highlights the women-led startups and incubators reshaping the sector.

Fintechs in Ethiopia face a dilemma. Prime minister Abiy Ahmed is now opening doors for foreign investment in fintech in Ethiopia. Hawi Dadhi looks at the hurdles local fintechs face when competition rises.

Africa is defying global funding trends. Crunchbase data indicate that global venture capital funding is slowing down but Africa is recording a three digit growth—150% to hit a record $1.8 billion. Martin Siele explains why this is happening.

Vc funding africa Q1

A tragic Sunday in Nigeria. Last weekend’s killing of dozens of people at a church was another reminder of Nigeria’s security challenges, according to Alexander Onukwue.

Vaccines by Africans for Africans. Africa’s first large scale vaccine manufacturing plant will be built in Senegal. The country recently secured $80 million in funding for the facility. Faustine Ngila investigates how this could change vaccine procurement in Africa.


Charting Africa’s VC funding “mushy middle”

Defying a global slowdown in venture capital activity, African startups have raised more in each of the first five months this year than in the same months in the past four years, thanks to mega funding rounds by e-commerce platform Wasoko and others.

A new report suggests that despite the funding boom for fast-growing startups, investors with an eye on Africa should not overlook African startups that have crossed the seed stage but are not quite yet rapidly growing. Alexander Onukwue takes a deeper look at the numbers.

A bar chart showing the number of startup investments by funding stage in 2021. In all regions, seed has the most, followed by series A, series B, and then series C. Africa is the lowest invested region.

Quotable

“I can’t increase the price of the Rolex, but I have reduced its size because my customers will not buy my snacks, they say they don’t have the money.” —Zziwa Fred, a Ugandan fast-food vendor

Rolexes are getting smaller in Uganda as the east African country’s favorite street food feels the “shrinkflation” effect from the war in Ukraine, which has increased the price of wheat and sunflower oil—key ingredients in the delicacy made with chapati and eggs, Nakisanze Sekawa reports.


One big number

58,866

This is the number of tech developers in Kenya, behind only Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt.

Microsoft opened one of two Africa Development Centre (ADC) sites in Nairobi and is looking to hire at least 450 full-time employees. Google announced it was hiring more than 100 employees in upcoming Product Development Center in Nairobi, the company’s first facility of this kind in Africa. Visa just launched its Innovation Hub, one of six worldwide. Amazon plans to launch an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Local Zone.

Martin Siele reports on how big tech is winning the battle for Kenya’s talent.


Dealmaker

African payments company MFS Africa announced it will buy Global Technology Partners, a payments processing company founded in Oklahoma in 2003, to issue prepaid cards to its users. The deal is for $34 million in cash and shares. It is the latest in a series of deals by MFS Africa following its acquisitions of Beyonic (Uganda) and Capricorn Digital (Nigeria), and the purchase of a minority stake in Maviance (Cameroon).

GOMYCODE, a Tunisian startup, raised $8 million from the Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund (CAIF) and Proparco. The company is a school of sorts for young people to learn tech skills like web development, digital marketing, data science, and artificial intelligence. Pricing ranges from $250 to $750 for its programs; it says it has 4,000 active students.

Indicina, a Nigerian fintech startup, raised $3 million in a round led by Target Global with investments from Greycroft, and RV Ventures. The company provides software to help lenders make decisions about offering credit to individuals. It was founded in 2018 by Yvonne Johnson, a former Nigerian banker.


Quartz Gems

Containers and cargo vessels at the Qingdao port in China
Image copyright: Reuters

What’s the word for running supply chains only through countries that are close political partners? Ah, yes, friendshoring.

The word is newer to the supply chain lexicon, though the concept of friendshoring isn’t. While some political and corporate leaders think friendshoring can make supply chains more resilient, the latest Weekend Brief will explain why it actually might make for choppier seas. Members receive the Weekend Brief in their inbox every Saturday. Sign up today.


a microphone as used in podcasting
Image copyright: Eric Helgas, styling by Alex Citrin-Safadi

Are we in a podcast bubble? Depends on who you ask! Podcasting’s low barrier to entry, plus widespread interest in the format, means there’s plenty of attention on pod opportunities. But all that interest is also making it increasingly difficult to break through, let alone build a big audience. Who wins and who loses when everything shakes out? 🎧  Learn more with this week’s episode of the Quartz Obsession podcast.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher


Other things we liked

Aspirant believes weed and snakes will end Kenya’s troubles. Prof. George Wajackoyah, one of the four presidential hopefuls in the Kenyan August general elections, told voters that he will make the country self-sufficient through large-scale cannabis growing and snake farming. Mwangi Muiruri and Onyango K’Onyango of the Nation report.

Explore Kehinde Wiley’s Dakar art residency. For Vogue, Alice Kemp-Habib gives a virtual tour of the infinity pool, dusty roads, and volcanic rocks that adorn Black Rock, the opulent edifice which is home to the art residency run by the African-American artist.

Nigeria’s 2023 presidential race begins. Nigeria’s ruling party elected Bola Tinubu as its presidential candidate to face the opposition’s Atiku Abubakar in next year’s elections. For African Arguments, Idayat Hassan provides the first preview of what will be an intriguing race.

$2 million to move schooling to WhatsApp. TechCabal’s Damilare Dosunmu reports on why South African startup Foondamate thinks it is time e-learning moved to more accessible platforms—WhatsApp and Messenger. It raised $2 million to fund the ambition.


ICYMI

Mentoring program for women in tech is open. She Code Africa is calling for women interested in software engineering, product, and data to apply for a training and mentoring program (June 19)

Apply for food security awards. World Food Forum Startup Innovation Awards 2022 are open for participation for those who have created agritech solutions to end global hunger. (July 15)


🎵 This brief was produced while listening to “Bolo Mala” by Habib Koite (Mali)


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