Multilingual Africa

A series on cracking the language barrier.

Ai in Africa

This webinar series, hosted by the International Research Centre in Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) and supported by UNESCO and the Knowledge 4 All Foundation, aims to introduce the Fellowship for African AI Researchers, to develop datasets, and strengthen capacities and innovation potential for Low-Resource African Languages projects. This initiative encompasses research in natural language processing, open dataset creation and publishing, and the development of an interface between policy and technology.
The project has successfully delivered four main components:


  1. Establishing a Fellowship for African AI Researchers focused on African languages and building upon prior IDRC and Knowledge 4 All Foundation-funded work on language datasets. This work contributes to a roadmap for better integration of African languages on digital platforms, lowering barriers for African participation in the digital economy.
  2. Improvement of the representation of AI research carried out on African languages by creating resources for various Natural Language Processing (NLP) tasks in a variety of African languages to enable data-driven results on AI research
  3. Attract an African Community of native speakers that contribute language resources and language technology tools to support Masakhane NLP. This platform facilitates the sharing and maintenance of language resources and tools, establishes widely agreed benchmarks for NLP tasks, and stimulates competition between methods and systems.
  4. Serve as a model for policymaking to inform evidence-based policymaking in Africa concerning Artificial Intelligence that will be included into UNESCO’s AI Decision Maker’s Essential to provide insights for policymakers.


Date: Friday, May 28, 2021

Place: Online via Zoom link

Participants: Nairobi, London, Cape Town, Saarbrücken, Kampala

This kick-off is part of a webinar series, hosted by IRCAI and partners and builds on the results coming from the Fellowship. These are the four new projects which are supported by the Lacuna Fund, in collaboration with Canada’s International Development Research Centre, the German development agency GIZ, The Rockefeller Foundation and

This webinar will look at the structure and delivery plan of the new projects that intersect with the Fellowship to develop datasets and strengthen capacities and innovation potential for Low Resource African Languages projects.

  1. Masakhane MT: Decolonizing Scientific Writing for Africa
  2. Masakhane NER: Named Entity Recognition & Parts of Speech datasets for AfricanLanguages
  3. Building NLP Text and Speech Datasets for Low Resourced Languages in East Africa
  4. Nigerian Sentiment Lexicon

The kick-off meeting will cover the following:

  • Formal presentation by the project leads
  • Formal presentation by the project officer
  • Review of project overview and different roles and potential outcomes
  • Definition of different structures and where possible identification of individual responsibilities
  • Presentation of available software and networks that can be exploited
  • Identification of areas where development is needed and which partners will be responsible for what
  • Scheduling of the next set of meetings, including a technical workshop later in the year (perhaps w/c July), PMC meetings, and next project meetings


13:00 – 14:00 (CEST)
Launch opening
Prof. John Shawe-Taylor, Director at IRCAI and K4A, UNESCO Chair in AI at University College London
Background and history
Kathleen Siminyu, Regional Coordinator, AI4D Africa
Davor Orlic, COO at IRCAI and K4A
All projects overview and Masakhane legal entity
Jade Abbott, Retro Rabbit and Masakhane
Discussion with Lacuna Fund Secretariat
Jennifer Pratt Miles and Seth Blum, Meridian Institute

Coffee Break

14:05 – 16:00 (CEST)Presentation of management of all 4 projects
Jade Abbott, Retro Rabbit and Masakhane
Peter Nabende, Makerere University
Shamsuddeen Hassan, Bayero University
Andrew Katumba, Makerere University

Structure: Rollout, Milestones, List of deliverables, Technologies to be developed, Data collection, Legal framework, Risks, Discussion

Coffee Break

16:05 – 17:00 (CEST)Presentations of business and outreach
Presentation on data influencing policies: Hacking and Prototyping, Products and Business, Pilots and Architecture, Dissemination and Policy, Invitation to the research communitiy, Wrapping up and Closure

Date: Friday, June 28, 2021

Place: Online via Zoom link

The languages from this Fellowship have not received adequate attention or resources in the rapidly evolving landscape of language technologies and applications. Therefore this is the beginning of a significantly long journey of creating training and evaluation datasets for underserved African languages, which will have significant downstream impacts on education, financial inclusion, healthcare, agriculture, communication, and disaster response in Sub-Saharan Africa. These recipients have produced training datasets in Eastern, Western, and Southern Africa that will support a range of needs for low resource languages, including machine translation, speech recognition, named entity recognition and part of speech tagging, sentiment analysis, and multi-modal datasets. Here we will present the work done on each language with a general overview of the main challenges, key insights and learnings from the work of the various Fellows, including additional work by the African data science community on top of datasets to create AI/ML applications such as the newly built Text-to-Speech (TTS) platform for Wolof language.


13:00 – 13:15 (CEST)
Bhanu Neupane, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO
Jonas Gramse, GIZ
Kathleen Siminyu, Regional Coordinator, AI4D Africa
Davor Orlic, COO at IRCAI

13:15 – 13:30 (CEST)
Keynote speaker
Thierno Diop: Masakhane Text-to-Speech (TTS) platform

Coffee Break

13:30 – 14:15 (CEST)
Fellowship speakers
Language Dataset Fellowships of all 9 languages
Kevin Degila: Ewe language and Fongbe language
David Adelani: Yoruba language
Amelia Taylor: Chichewa language
Thierno Diop: Wolof language
Davis David: Kiswahili language
Chayma Fourati:Tunisian Arabizi language
Swahili language
Lawrence Adu-Gyamfi: Twi language
Joyce Nakatumba-Nabende:Luganda language

14:15 – 14:30 (CEST)
Closing Remarks
Bhanu Neupane, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO


International Research Centre
on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI)
under the auspices of UNESCO 

Jožef Stefan Institute
Jamova cesta 39
SI-1000 Ljubljana


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