Egypt and Italy to establish AI centre in Cairo

The initiative will allow Egypt to foster AI development and applications across Africa, and also provide training and support to other African nations.

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Image : HO / EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP

The Egyptian and Italian governments have announced they are partnering to establish an artificial intelligence (AI) centre in Cairo, in a move that aims to position Egypt as Africa’s leading technology hub.

Italy’s minister of economic development, Adolfo Urso, said during a recent meeting in Cairo that the AI centre could be operational later this year. The idea is that the initiative will allow Egypt to foster AI development and applications across Africa, and also provide training and support to other African nations. The two countries have also pledged to encourage further collaboration between research institutions and private enterprises in their respective countries.

When announcing the plan for an AI centre, Urso said that “Italy and Egypt are both at the heart of the Mediterranean and at the crossroad of three continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. Italy, with its ports, energy infrastructure, and cable links sees Egypt as a key partner in the development of the entire region.”

Urso added that he hopes the AI centre will establish Egypt as an international hub for this technology.

Maged Salib, professor of political science at Helwan University in Cairo and AI expert, tells African Business that the move makes sense for both countries.

“Egypt is a strategic partner with the European Union and Italy in particular, while Italy is already a leading partner with Egypt in the energy sector.”

“Egypt offers one of the largest markets in Africa, political stability, and has eventually recovered from an economic crisis with a positive economic outlook,” Salib says. “Egypt is a leading African country in digital infrastructure; thus, it is an ideal regional AI hub. Egypt, aided by Italian technology, can be a hub providing capacity-building services to African countries.”

Italy, under the leadership of new prime minister Georgia Meloni, has been placing increased emphasis on its diplomatic and economic relationships in Africa. In December, Italy’s state-controlled natural gas importer Eni announced that it would be ramping up its investments in Africa.

Meloni has committed herself to pursuing the “Mattei Plan,” a proposed investment initiative that would allow Italy to import natural gas and hydrogen from North Africa and in turn export those resources to Northern Europe. The Mattei Plan also aims to shore up the economies of African countries and therefore reduce migration flows from the continent to Europe.

In a sign of how central Africa is to her foreign policy and economic agenda, Meloni’s first bilateral visit upon becoming prime minister was to Algeria, which she followed up with trips to Libya, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Mozambique, and the Republic of Congo.

Federico Donelli, assistant professor of international relations as the University of Trieste, tells African Business that the investment in Egypt’s AI scene “is part of a broader framework that includes the relationship between Egypt and the European Union. European countries, especially Italy, believe supporting Egypt during an economic crisis that could potentially lead to a social fallout is essential.”

“European states fear that instability in the country could trigger an increase in migration flows across the Mediterranean. Therefore, there is a need to increase cooperation in a variety of fields in order to enhance the development capacity and sustainability of the entire region,” he adds.

Donelli also believes that Italy could benefit economically from its investment in Africa’s next-generation technology.

“Rome sees Africa’s digital transition and green transition as a key step in the Mattei Plan. Within this framework, Egypt is a key partner in generating positive spillovers across the continent,” he says. “Italy has the opportunity to position itself as a digitisation partner for African countries. Rome aims to improve Africa countries’ access to the computing power needed for AI models by improving local infrastructure and supporting skills development. Strategically, Italy is trying to carve out a niche in its relations with Africa.”

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Harry Clynch

Harry is Finance Reporter at African Business.