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Africa’s Democratic Elections and the Growing Threat of AI Manipulation

Elections

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TL;DR

  • Africa faces AI threats in the 2024 elections, with over 70 polls scheduled; 26 are in Africa, but awareness about AI risks remains low.
  • Despite the absence of clear regulations, Africa has laid the groundwork with “soft laws” and data protection policies to manage AI in elections.
  • To safeguard democracy, African nations should ratify principles of transparency, limit AI manipulation, and establish oversight for AI in electoral processes.

The year 2024 witnesses a staggering number of over 70 elections scheduled globally, with a significant portion of them, around 26, set to take place in Africa. These elections encompass a diverse range from presidential to local government elections, providing a crucial opportunity for over half of the world’s population to exercise their voting rights. 

However, artificial intelligence (AI) substantially threatens these democratic processes, particularly in Africa. The voting populace in many African nations is not adequately informed about the potential dangers associated with AI in elections. Moreover, regulatory frameworks for governing AI’s role in electoral processes are still lacking.

Africa’s preparedness and soft laws

Despite these challenges, Africa is not entirely unprepared to address the AI threat. While continental guidelines are absent, many African countries have laid the foundation for regulating AI in elections through “soft laws,” including declarations and guiding principles. The 2002 Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, established by the Organisation of African Unity, sets crucial principles such as impartial electoral bodies and respect for human rights and the rule of law. These principles can be both positively and negatively affected by the use of AI.

Building on this foundation, the AU’s 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance includes provisions related to technology’s role in governance. While it encourages information technology to advance political, economic, and social development, it lacks specific details on how technology, including AI, should be employed in elections.

Critics and ethical framework

Critics argue that the charter’s lack of specificity leaves it powerless to regulate recent AI innovations such as micro-targeted political messaging. Nevertheless, the charter’s broad principles, which oppose discrimination and call for transparent, impartial processes, still provide an ethical framework applicable to AI.

Despite these limitations, individual African nations have taken steps to govern AI themselves. Many have introduced policies related to data protection, cybersecurity, and e-governance. Data protection laws regulating how personal data, including voters’ information, can be processed are particularly relevant to AI’s use and development. To date, 35 African countries have enacted data protection laws, with three others in the draft stage. This expanding legal ecosystem allows AI control, even without binding continental standards.

AU’s AI governance efforts

Simultaneously, the African Union (AU) is intensifying efforts to establish a comprehensive AI governance regime. The draft AU-AI continental strategy seeks to increase public awareness of AI’s societal impacts and regulate the development of accountable AI systems. The AU’s working group on AI plans further steps to govern AI on the continent.

With both grassroots progress and high-level plans underway, Africa is making promising strides toward managing the potential of AI. However, much work remains as malicious actors may seek to exploit AI to undermine the continent’s democratic aspirations.

Recommendations for safeguarding democracy

To strengthen Africa’s elections in 2024 and beyond, AU member states should urgently ratify and implement the core principles of transparency, impartiality, and respect for human rights outlined in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance. Furthermore, the AU must establish binding guidelines specifying how AI can and cannot be used in electoral processes.

These guidelines should mandate transparency in AI systems used for political messaging and strictly limit micro-targeting to prevent manipulative personalization. Robust audits must assess AI tools for bias that could disenfranchise women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. Electoral bodies should create specialized oversight capacities to monitor AI activities, aided by civil society watchdogs. Given the establishment of data protection authorities in most African countries, this function might be delegated to them.

Disclaimer. The information provided is not trading advice. Cryptopolitan.com holds no liability for any investments made based on the information provided on this page. We strongly recommend independent research and/or consultation with a qualified professional before making any investment decisions.

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Brenda Kanana

Brenda Kanana is an accomplished and passionate writer specializing in the fascinating world of cryptocurrencies, Blockchain, NFT, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). With a profound understanding of blockchain technology and its implications, she is dedicated to demystifying complex concepts and delivering valuable insights to readers.

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