31 December 2022

Themed “Digital-for-development: Enabling transformation, inclusion and sustainability through ICTs”, the conference provided a platform for scholars, academics, and IT practitioners to discuss new theories and practices in digital-for-development ecosystems such as business applications, data-driven sustainable development, emerging technologies for transformation, inclusion and sustainable development.

Chaired by UJ’s Dr Patrick Ndayizigamiye and Professor Ntombovuyo Wayi-Mgwebi, UMP’s Head of School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, the event had a postdoctoral symposium, which provided a platform for postgraduate students to engage in research with academics and fellow students to address topics such as eHealth for transformation, inclusion and sustainability, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for good, and the emerging technologies for transformation, inclusion and sustainable development.

Digitising Africa

Speaking at the event Michael Onyango, founder of Kenya's largest and most trusted WhatsApp network platform, The 4gotten Bottomillions (4BM), an initiative that started in 2017 to enable those in marginalized groups in Kisumu, Kenya to have access to social-economic opportunities, explained that the African continent population is projected at 29 billion and the African GDP is expected to grow, meaning that there’s more need for digital education and services.

“It’s important to get the right frontier technologies for the growing population. Give your clients skills that will enable them to go on for the next 20 years, because this continent has the highest growth and the biggest population – also the biggest market.”

Onyango further mentioned that Frontier Technologies, which includes everything from blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the Internet of Things (IoT) and Virtual Reality (VR), are all key to getting people into the right places. “These fantastic qualities are important in our lives, not just today, but for years to come.”

Global trends

Another keynote speaker, Professor Bruce W. Watson from the Centre for AI Research, and who is the Capitec Chair of Applied Artificial Intelligence, and SACAIR (Southern African Conference for Artificial Intelligence Research) Chair of Computational Thinking for Artificial Intelligence, presented on Global Trends in IT research and their impact on Information Communication Technology, said digital skills training is key when empowering disadvantaged communities.

"Training to create a deep understanding of what differs from what, and why there's the well-known Explainable AI problem. It's important that people understand what we are talking about – bring them up to speed with the digital language."

He further noted that policy issues will assist to provide access to the masses, and that people can be able to retain their data.

“Google, Facebook and all the free companies are who they are because they are working on free data, which belongs to us. We must start colonizing our digital policies so that it is easier for us to work across geographies as countries and as people. Again, it’s the issue of ownership.”

Professor Watson mentioned that he wrote The AI Practitioners Guide for Kenya, which aims for a more open, inclusive, and sustainable approach to AI. “Anyone who's working around Artificial Intelligence in Kenya knows that there are certain guidelines that we want to have in place.”

UMP: Closing the gap

UMP lecturer Dr Mncedisi Bembe chaired the sessions that were under the topic Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good and the included topics were: Towards an Artificial Intelligence Readiness Index for Africa, An Ensemble Model based on Learning Vector Quantization Algorithms for Early Detection of Cassava Diseases using Spectral Data and an adaptive and dynamic heterogeneous ensemble model for credit scoring.

Professor Billy Kalema from UMP chaired theories and practices in digital-for-development ecosystems and these included using the Ubuntu Philosophy to Understand the Motives Behind the Practice of Password-Sharing and Dissemination of Climate Information: Insights from a Case of Rural Small-Scale Farmers in Raymond Mhlaba Municipality, South Africa.

Professor Nwayi-Gwebi said that UMP, through its partnership with the Nemisa CoLab, offers training to various communities to address the digital divide.

“The training is offered to different community groups, like schools, TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) colleges and other community offerings. Recently, through Nemisa, we have trained a group of military veterans and their dependents. These training initiatives are aimed at basic use of computers and also 4IR technologies, thus making it easy to use for business marketing and for those searching for employment,” she added.

“The university has made great strides in terms of using technology for teaching. This enabled quick responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and continues to introduce more innovative tools towards quality teaching and learning. The overarching goal of the IDIA is to build within the South African university research community the capacity and expertise in data intensive research to enable global leadership.

@ Story and pictures by Cleopatra Makhaga.