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Dr. Osamuyimen Stewart, chief scientist t IBM Research Africa and Dr. Kamal Bhattacharya, director of IBM Research Africa at the Lab in Nairobi, Kenya. Source: IBM

Dr. Osamuyimen Stewart, chief scientist t IBM Research Africa and Dr. Kamal Bhattacharya, director of IBM Research Africa at the Lab in Nairobi, Kenya. Source: IBM

In line with previous commitments placing Africa at the heart of IBM’s long-term growth strategy, the company announced Thursday that it is bringing its Watson cognitive computing platform to the continent, investing $100m in the initiative. The announcement follows a recently announced $1bn investment in the cloud-based cognitive computing platform, and a massive hardware divestment.

With Watson IBM is hoping to carve out a unique space for itself in the cloud arena by serving up a software as a service platform tuned for cognitive computing applications.

“In the last decade, Africa has been a tremendous growth story — yet the continent’s challenges, stemming from population growth, water scarcity, disease, low agricultural yield and other factors are impediments to inclusive economic growth,” said Kamal Bhattacharya, director, IBM Research – Africa.

“With the ability to learn from emerging patterns and discover new correlations, Watson’s cognitive capabilities hold enormous potential in Africa – helping it to achieve in the next two decades what today’s developed markets have achieved over two centuries.”

IBM said it plans to initially focus resources on spurring development in cloud and data applications to improve healthcare provision as well as education.

As part of the $100m it committed IBM will also establish a new pan-African Centre of Excellence for Data-Driven Development (CEDD), and is currently in the process of recruiting research partners including universities, development agencies, and start-ups in and outside Africa.

It also plans to open new “innovation centres” in Lagos, Nigeria; Casablanca, Morocco; and Johannesburg, South Africa. The company is hoping to spur development of local skills in information technology and boost entrepreneurialism around cloud and big data.

According to African Development Bank data, Africa is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world with GDP growth rates sitting between five and seven per cent annually. But sub-Saharan Africa also suffers from a relative lack of datacentre and internet infrastructure according to datacentre and IT consultancy IT Consilium, which may inhibit penetration of cloud services in the region in the near term.

Nevertheless, IBM among others have identified the continent as a massive growth opportunity for enterprise IT vendors over the next ten years, and a region the company hopes to break into as it shifts away from hardware to focus on software and the cloud.

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