Benin paves the way for AI and big data with SENIA
For the second year running, the Digital Entrepreneurship and Artificial Intelligence Trade Show (known as SENIA in French) took place in Cotonou on 12 and 13 May. Attracting almost 1,000 participants, the event reflects Benin's drive to become a major player in artificial intelligence (AI) in West Africa. The debates and meetings aim at sparking high-impact initiatives that will benefit public administration, businesses and Benin’s society.
Organized by the Ministry of Digital Affairs and Digitalization, SENIA brings together Beninese talent and international experts in AI and data science. With many panels and presentations on offer, the trade show is not only a platform for exchange but also an environment for business and networking between professionals in the sector.
A trade show to prepare for the future
By showcasing the latest innovations and promising ideas, the show also encourages young people to move into emerging professions. As a partner in the NTF V project, which focuses on preparing young people for digital careers, the EPITECH graduate school made a lasting impression by demonstrating its students' projects. Within its entrepreneurial innovation cluster, 432 students nurture their passion for robotics, artificial intelligence and immersive technologies.
This pool of skills illustrates a flourishing Beninese ecosystem, from which future innovation project managers, engineers and other artificial intelligence experts are already emerging.
‘Within five years, Benin hopes to be a catalyst for digital development in Africa. And in 10 years' time, high-potential start-ups will have reached unicorn status,’ said Brad Kpoahoun, innovation and entrepreneurship project manager at EPITECH.
Benin conquering its data
The theme of the 2023 SENIA was ‘Local content, new professions and open data’. With artificial intelligence and digital technology, data can be processed to play an essential role in implementing public policies. Benin wants to produce and promote local data, while establishing regulations to guarantee its sovereignty. The goal is to develop its digital ecosystem and, more broadly, its economy. The country has just opened a national data center and is launching a vast project to digitalize its administration.
Enhancing local content with AI
At SENIA, the Digital Information Systems Agency (known by its French acronym ASIN) in collaboration with Isheero, presented a chatbot created for the Benin government. Unlike Chat GPT, whose use is restricted in Africa, the GPT BJ chatbot was developed for Benin. The GPT BJ compiles the country's general tax code, penal code, digital code and labour code, and can provide targeted answers on Beninese regulations. It is one of many artificial intelligence solutions currently being developed in Benin.
Making Benin a benchmark for digital services in West Africa
Benin ranks among the best prepared African countries to adopt artificial intelligence, according to an Oxford Insights report. Last January, the country adopted a national strategy to make digital technology a lever for economic and social growth.
The strategy encourages applying AI to the Beninese context, not only to accelerate the digitalization of public administration, but also to address priorities in education, health, agriculture and the environment. The national strategy for artificial intelligence and big data calls for laying the groundwork for a solid, sustainable digital ecosystem. Then the strategy seeks to build on that, to make Benin a recognized leader in AI. in 2016, Benin set a goal of becoming the benchmark platform for digital services in West Africa.
About the programme
The Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF) programme (July 2021 – June 2025) is based on a partnership between the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Trade Centre. NTF V supports SMEs in the digital technology and agribusiness sectors in Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Uganda. Its ambition is to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of agri-food systems partly through digital solutions, to improve the international competitiveness of local tech start-ups and to support the implementation of the export strategy of IT&BPO companies.