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02 November 2020

HSRC and Facebook announce grant awardees for research on ethics, human rights and AI in Africa

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, Monday 2 November 2020 – The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Facebook earlier this year announced a collaborative project and released a request for proposals (RFP) aimed at supporting interdisciplinary independent academic research across Africa in the field of AI, ethics and human rights.

The seven-person advisory board that reviewed the proposals comprised: Dr Noberto Andrade, Facebook; Dr Buhle Khanyile, HSRC; Titi Akinsanmi, Google; Dr Ololade Shyllon, Facebook; Wairagala Wakabi, CIPESA; Professor Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem, University of Pretoria; and Dr Rachel Adams, HSRC.

Following a rigorous evaluation process of all the proposals received, eight (8) awardees have been identified. It is anticipated that the work to be undertaken by the awardees from various countries in Africa, will go some way toward responding to the complex questions regarding ethics and social impact which have arisen from the growing reliance on artificial intelligence (AI) systems in Africa.

A total commitment from Facebook of US$ 200, 000 will be shared amongst the eight (8) awardees. The HSRC, as the premier science council charged with understanding the social implications of change and development in Africa, is well positioned to coordinate the research being carried out by the awardees.

The awardees hail from eight different countries in Africa, making this a truly continental initiative.  The work of the research teams indicated hereunder, will stand the continent in good stead to understand the implications of AI, ways in which to leverage this for socio-economic development and to be able to better understand the risks and challenges which can be mitigated against.

The awardees are:

  • Elefelious Getachew Belay (Ethiopia): Socio-technical considerations for the design and development of AI in Africa. On receiving the outcome of his proposal, Elefelious said that “This award accords a great deal of enthusiasm to my enduring desire to explore more and achieve more in my research career.”
  • Radha Upadhyaya (Kenya): The Ethics and Social Impact of Automated Mobile Credit Lending in Kenya. Radha and her team responded to the award, saying: “We’re really excited to use this funding to investigate how best to promote transparency and responsibility with the mobile credit lending sector of Kenya, a topic that will expand the research and work we are doing across our varied fields: development economics, history/anthropology, and technology and the law. This research is especially timely in light of growing calls for greater regulation of automated risk assessment and credit lending in Kenya.”
  • Thompson Chengeta (Zimbabwe): Re-examining the jus ad bellum – jus in bello dichotomy from an African freedom ethics perspective: Towards a comprehensive response to autonomous weapon systems. For Thompson, he commented that, “I am extremely pleased to receive this research award. The grant will make it possible to increase African scholarship on one of the critical topics on AI and human rights. Given the international community’s current goal of inclusion and diversity in framing AI governing frameworks, this grant is very timely in my efforts to contribute towards that goal.”
  • Samah Elsayed (Egypt) The Cairo Charter: Urban AI in Africa for Social & Environmental Justice. Samaha and her team commented that: “The Cairo Charter will formulate a framework for advancing justice-driven AI in smart city planning and development in Cairo, across the African continent, and beyond. We are looking forward to developing a series of principles and protocols for Urban AI in Cairo that focus on applications for ecological and social justice”.
  • Pross Oluka Nagitta (Uganda): Buying Ethical AI solutions for government: Why is ethical awareness in public procurement important in the deployment of ethical AI solutions in Uganda & Kenya? Pross and her team responded to the outcome of their proposal submission by saying: “This funding is an important breakthrough for us to recast the public procurement research agenda towards the social impact agenda. We believe that taxpayer resources must address the aspects that affect the poorest and the most vulnerable in the populations.”
  • Tom Peter Migua Ogada (Kenya): Artificial Intelligence or Jobs: Which way forward for Africa. For Tom and his colleagues, “this award will enable the African Centre for Technology in Kenya to jumpstart policy research and development in artificial intelligence to effectively contribute to policy discussion on social-economic and ethical considerations of large-scale deployment of AI in Africa.”
  • Adekemi Omotubora (Nigeria): What Value is in the Code? Human Rights by Design in AI Governance. Adekemi has stated that the award of this grant “is a huge boost for our research into human rights-driven AI designs and will help us to further understand how health technologies promote equality and inclusiveness in society.”
  • Donrich Thaldar (South Africa): Artificial intelligence in healthcare in South Africa. For Donrich and his team: “AI has the potential to improve healthcare, but also entails some ethical and legal concerns. With this grant my research group and I will develop practical, solution-driven recommendations that can be implemented within a South African context.”

Dr Rachel Adams of the HSRC commented that “AI is having, and set to have, huge impacts on the African region. We are delighted to be supporting such important interdisciplinary work that will generate new knowledge around what AI means for human rights and ethics in our African context”.

Dr Ololade Shyllon, Facebook Privacy Policy Manager for the Middle East and Africa, commented that: “Facebook believes in the value of localised and innovative research to help shape the design and governance of AI in accordance with ethics and human rights. That is why we are delighted to support independent African research to reinvigorate current academic discourse on what AI, Ethics and human rights can and should mean for Africa and globally.”

The HSRC and Facebook would like to extend their congratulations to all the awardees and look forward to working together to better understanding, from an African perspective, these important fields of AI research.

For more information on this initiative please visit the HSRC’s website:

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About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.

The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organizations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

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