Advancing the G7’s Relationship with Africa through AI

After the geopolitical shock of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine (with China’s tacit support), many global governance institutions are operating at a severely degraded level. One important exception is the G7, which has taken on renewed importance after more than a decade of diminishing relevance compared to the G20. As a small club of leading democratic powers with market economies, the G7 is again in the drivers’ seat, not only on its traditional focus areas of security and economic policy, but also on newer topics such as artificial intelligence (AI).

During the 2023 Japanese presidency, the G7 was a remarkably effective institution at driving international cooperation on AI governance, far more than is commonly understood and recognized. In late 2022, the rush to develop and enact separate AI regulations among the G7 members was at risk of producing unintended future barriers to trade and research collaboration. G7 deliberations helped to clarify shared principles for AI governance that were aligned with democratic values and to establish a common goal of AI regulatory interoperability that can ensure deepening economic and technological cooperation while respecting sovereignty.

The G7 also established links between the relevant officials from each country to collaborate on the key enablers of interoperability, such as common definitions of key terms and aligned measurements and standards. In private discussions with CSIS, government officials involved in drafting the EU AI Act, the U.S. AI Executive Order, and recently updated AI guidelines in Japan repeatedly emphasized the value of the work done during the 2023 G7 for their respective regulatory efforts at home.

The success of the 2023 G7 on AI shows just how much can be accomplished among a small group of close friends with shared values. But this also reveals one of the G7’s biggest challenges for 2024: how to make the G7’s work more inclusive, with greater opportunity for non-G7 countries to directly contribute and to be heard on the issues most important to them. China, in particular, has repeatedly sought to delegitimize the work of the G7, painting it as an “elite club” and stating that any G7 criticism of China is merely an attempt to suppress the entire developing world.

Fortunately, Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly emphasized the need for G7 to strengthen its global engagement and legitimacy. The Italian government’s description of its priorities as this year’s G7 presidency states “the relationship with developing Nations and emerging economies will be central. The engagement with Africa will be a key priority. We will work to build a cooperation model based on mutually beneficial partnerships, away from paternalistic or predatory logics.”

There are many important issues where the G7 ought to engage with developing nations and emerging economies, including climate change, energy and food security, and investment, AI should also be a part of the agenda.

Few issues can capture the global public’s imagination and attention the way that AI has over the past two years. For the G7, this offers not only economic and technological opportunities, but foreign policy ones as well. In the same way that space technology cooperation and competition featured prominently in foreign policy discussions during the twentieth century, AI technology is already a major focus of diplomatic attention, including in relations between G7 countries and emerging economies. For example, while many issues were addressed during U.S. president Joe Biden’s visit to Vietnam in September 2023, much of the reporting focused on the excitement surrounding the AI investment and trade deals struck during the trip.

Because AI looms large in the public consciousness, productive diplomatic cooperation on AI could help shift the narrative on the broader G7-emerging economy nexus, particularly with African countries. AI is relevant to many of the challenges that Africa faces—improving education, healthcare, economic development, and labor productivity—and many African countries already possess promising clusters of AI entrepreneurship and innovation.

The AI issue therefore offers an opportunity for the G7 to take a substantive, but also symbolically meaningful first step toward fulfilling Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s promise of redefining the G7-Africa relationship on non-predatory, non-paternalistic terms. At the Italy-Africa Summit in Rome on January 28–29, African Union (AU) chairman Moussa Faki welcomed this new “paradigm shift” but made it clear that Italy will need to work in partnership with African leaders for this newly defined relationship to happen. By proactively engaging African countries to collaboratively advance AI cooperation, the G7 can build mutually beneficial trade, investment, and supply chain linkages that will help address both G7 and AU challenges. They will also serve as a powerful signal of the broader changes in the nature of the G7 and Global South relationship in precisely the way sought by Prime Minister Meloni.

The timing could hardly be better. The AU has just published a report on the socioeconomic development potential of AI for Africa and is currently finalizing the AU Continental AI Strategy. G7 digital ministerial staff could visit the AU secretariat in Addis Ababa, meet with the officials preparing the strategy, and hear directly about the opportunities and challenges facing the AU in pursuing its AI strategy and where there might be good opportunities for the G7 to cooperate.

The success of the G7’s engagement with the AU on AI will depend on mutual, equal partnership between the two forums. The G7 should pay close attention to the vision for artificial intelligence in Africa that the AU is laying out as it drafts the Continental AI Strategy. This includes identifying key areas where G7 members could contribute to African-driven initiatives, from applications of AI to local issues to African countries’ development, deployment, and governance of AI. In turn, the G7 should strive to include the AU in conversations about the G7’s AI governance forum, the Hiroshima AI Process, as it seeks to broaden the conversation to include developing economies and enhance regulatory interoperability. These efforts will require regular convenings, whether virtual or in-person in Europe and Africa, to establish ongoing dialogue between the G7 and the African Union that forms a lasting partnership.

As a small group of leading democracies in a challenging geopolitical arena, the G7 has renewed importance for security, economic policy, and increasingly, AI. However, while the G7’s work of aligning members’ AI governance efforts is a tremendous first step, AI is rapidly becoming a global technology. Fortunately, Prime Minister Meloni has recognized the importance of broadening the G7’s conversations to include developing economies, with a particular emphasis on reshaping the G7’s engagement with Africa. In the realm of AI governance, this old proverb rings true: “if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” The G7 should be prepared to go together with emerging economies if it hopes to advance the future of AI for good.

Gregory C. Allen is director of the Wadhwani Center for AI and Advanced Technologies and senior fellow with the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Georgia Adamson is a research assistant with the Wadhwani Center for AI and Advanced Technologies at CSIS.

Georgia Adamson
Research Assistant, Wadhwani Center for AI and Advanced Technologies