Guest Articles

February 15

Lanre Ogungbe

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Cybersecurity in Africa: How AI Can Help Ensure the Continent’s Digital Safety

Technology adoption has seen a significant surge in African markets, with internet users on the continent more than doubling to around 570 million from 2015 to 2022. Yet despite this progress, a looming shadow has also emerged: the relentless threat of cyberattacks. 

In 2022, amidst a 38% global increase in cyberattacks (compared to 2021), Africa experienced an average of 1,875 weekly attacks per organisation — the highest volume in the world. This has resulted in significant repercussions for businesses and entire economies. For instance, South Africa suffers losses estimated at $570 million per year, while Nigeria experiences annual losses of $500 million, with projections suggesting that these figures will continue to rise in the coming years.

In response to this emerging threat, cybersecurity measures are quickly evolving and being deployed across Africa, as seen in countries such as Mauritius, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana and Morocco, all of which are among the top 50 countries with the highest cybersecurity indices (a measure of how much countries have done to ensure their digital safety). However, the continent also has the lowest global adoption rate of cybersecurity policies and regulations, currently at 72%. This low adoption rate can be attributed to the perception that the growing economic impact of cyberattacks is dwarfed by the even faster growth of the digital economy, reducing the sense of urgency in addressing these risks.

Nevertheless, as the bedrock for a truly improved digital economy lies in ensuring digital safety, it’s imperative that Africa address this growing challenge. And since artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to transform the scale and scope of both cybercrime and cybersecurity efforts, it must become a central part of this discussion. In the article below, I’ll explore the emerging impacts, both positive and negative, of AI technology on cybersecurity on the continent.


Artificial Intelligence: A Cybersecurity Threat — And Ally

As AI continues to emerge globally, concerns are rising that the burgeoning use and sophistication of these tools will increase the frequency and severity of cybercrimes. But while we often hear about high-profile cyberattacks and the role of AI in the news, it is important to recognise that the greatest danger comes from within our own ranks. Human error undeniably poses the biggest threat to cybersecurity — for instance, it is responsible for almost 90% of data breaches. And even as the advancement of AI systems raises concerns that it may one day exceed the boundaries imposed by its human creators, it is crucial to acknowledge the inherent human element in the deployment and operation of these systems. Addressing this human factor is paramount — both in terms of reducing human errors that lead to data breaches and in refining the design and oversight of AI systems.

However, despite these concerns and challenges, AI can actually be a strong ally in tackling cybercrime. As African markets navigate the complexities of the digital landscape, AI can serve as a powerful tool for cybersafety, enabling advanced threat detection, user authentication, and automated response and remediation, thereby improving the way organisations protect their systems and data. Progress on these fronts will not only impact the continent’s economy, it will also shape its future.


The Need for Public and Private Sector Collaboration on AI Cybersecurity Applications

Though efforts to establish international policies for the secure development of AI are gaining momentum, Africa still has a long way to go in enabling the widespread adoption of AI technology for cybersecurity. Some of the challenges that impede this progress include infrastructural limitations, limited international collaboration, and gaps in education and training. In the global AI Readiness rankings, the U.S. tops the list with a score of 85.72 out of 100, while sub-Saharan Africa sits at 29.38, the lowest ranking in the world, and far lower than the global average of 44.61. There’s a clear need for the continent to prioritise its overall preparedness in terms of developing AI-powered cyberattack frameworks, implementing preventive measures, and understanding its unique regional behavioural patterns  — i.e., which trends/patterns in cybercrime are most prevalent, and how countries can address them effectively with AI.

However, there are countries, both in and outside of Africa, where the public and private sectors have successfully joined forces to advance cybersecurity. Israel, for instance, has positioned itself as a global cybersecurity hub by fostering collaboration between governments and businesses, driving cooperation and awareness. This serves as a testament to the level of attentiveness and implementation required to scale digital solutions across markets — and an example of the impact that cross-sector collaboration can have on national efforts to prevent cybercrime.

African countries like Egypt, Rwanda and Mauritius have published national AI strategies and demonstrated interest in AI development initiatives, indicating some progress in this regard. And some countries are leveraging artificial intelligence to advance other goals: For example, Zambia uses AI systems to combat misinformation during electoral processes, and Kenya harnesses machine learning in agriculture. Yet there has been little progress in applying AI technologies to improve cybersecurity on the continent, largely due to bone-deep issues such as the lack of digital infrastructure, inadequate education, limited data, insufficient funding, and weak enforcement of government policies.

To address these issues, both individual African countries and the global community have roles to play. There is a considerable opportunity to customise AI adoption and implementation to the specificities of local contexts — especially within African economies with rapidly growing digital finance ecosystems. For instance, mobile banking is prevalent on the continent, compared to traditional banking infrastructures. This is leading to an escalation in cybersecurity threats involving sophisticated phishing attacks targeting mobile users, as well as malware designed to exploit specific vulnerabilities in local mobile banking apps. Therefore, this local context needs to be taken into account when developing or adapting AI cybersecurity measures, so these solutions can be tailored to recognise and respond to the unique patterns of these attacks.

A popular example of the way cybercriminals target Africa’s particular vulnerabilities is the case of the fintech Union54, which ceased operations about a year ago due to chargeback fraud — which occurs when a customer disputes a charge in order to receive a refund for an item they purchased digitally, while also keeping the product. AI could be useful in addressing this sort of threat, which has become common in the African market. But generic AI models, which are trained on global datasets, often fall short in effectively identifying and mitigating threats like this one, which is deliberately engineered to exploit the unique behaviours and vulnerabilities of users within specific regions. 

This is why at Prembly, where I serve as co-founder and CEO, we are working to provide a comprehensive, AI-powered security and compliance infrastructure designed for Africa and other emerging markets. Prembly designs its models to detect and analyse fraud in real-time, adapt to the continent’s diverse landscape, and ensure compliance with local regulatory requirements. By expanding our presence, we train these models on region-specific data, understanding the intricacies of these markets, and building an ecosystem of products that spans AI-powered fraud detection, background screening, Know Your Customer/Know Your Business, and credit access.


​Why It’s Time for Africa to Seize the Opportunities of AI in Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks have impacts that extend beyond mere financial losses, as they can disrupt critical infrastructure, such as national electrical grids and airline systems. Given the continent’s vulnerability to these attacks, it is crucial for Africa to seize the opportunities that AI offers, leveraging its existing strengths and fostering collaboration between governments, international agencies and businesses. Failing to address these challenges will result in African countries continuing to lag behind their global peers, putting not only their cybersecurity but their economic prospects and even national security at risk.

In a world that is rapidly embracing AI, it’s becoming crucial for Africa — the world’s youngest continent — to fully embrace the possibilities of this fast-advancing technology as a cybersecurity tool. By understanding the implications of AI and its potential applications in this area, and by developing and enforcing the appropriate regulatory frameworks, awareness initiatives and supportive infrastructure, Africa can effectively harness the transformative power of AI to take its cybersecurity efforts to a new level.


Lanre Ogungbe is the co-founder and CEO of Prembly.




artificial intelligence, data, digital finance, digital payments, fintech, mobile finance, public policy, public-private partnerships, regulations