African Smart Cities: a solution to the booming urbanization process in the continent?

African Smart Cities: a solution to the booming urbanization process in the continent?

Africa is undergoing impressive urban growth. The continent who was alongside with Asia one of the least urbanized in the world back in 2014, is now demonstrating fast urbanization rates[1] and is envisioned to reach a 2.4 billion population within the next decades favoring cities over rural areas[2]. By 2030, it is expected that 6 of the world’s 41 megacities will be African, the cities being Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa joined by Johannesburg, Luanda and Dar es Salaam[3]. The urbanization process has undoubtedly the power to transform the global economy, however, it also comes with a set of challenges such as the need for mobility and access to urban service, the access to clean water and sanitation, public health and safety issues as well as policy-related matters.[4] Hence, the urbanization process can spur development only if initiatives are taken on to cope with the structural challenges that urbanization generates; and efforts are pursued to create inclusive, safe and sustainable cities as awaited by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. [5]

In the light of these challenges, questions about the continent’s readiness for the so-called third revolution[6] emerge with an important interrogation being:

How will Africa deal with the booming urbanization process?

Eko Atlantic, Nigeria

Eko Atlantic, Nigeria – Nigeria’s ambitious multi-billion dollar project that aims to transform Lagos, the country’s most populated city.

As the 2016-2025 decade is promising to be the decade of the continent’s development through technology, Smart cities are presented by policymakers as the solution to the rapid urbanization growth. According to the International Telecommunication Union, a Smart city is “an innovative city that uses ICTs [information and communication technologies] and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services and competitiveness”.[7] African policymakers are very much aware of the role of technology in spurring the development of urban cities. Incentives proving the importance of the matter include the Casablanca Smart city expo, the launch of the Nigerian Smart Cities Initiative aiming to encourage ICT’s integration in the country’s urban infrastructure and the Smart Africa blueprint initiative[8]. The blueprint launched in Rwanda in 2013, addressed to African city leaders and officials, lays down the principles for Smart city platforms and advises on the effective strategies and challenges to face the continent’s booming urbanization. A large set of successful initiatives inspired by the blueprint were put in place, using ICT to foster the development of Smart cities around the continent. EParking Solutions in Nairobi or online e-government services portal like “irembo” in Rwanda are examples of urbanization-led innovations.[9] Moreover, Smart cities are blooming all around the continent as illustrated by Eko Atlantic in Lagos, Nigeria; Hope and King City in Ghana; Vision City in Kigali, Rwanda[10]; Kenya’s new tech hub Konza technology city and Waterfall city in South Africa.

Overall, the development of Smart cities in Africa benefits from the African experience in matters such as limited legacy drawbacks (costs associated with the maintenance of infrastructure in place), youthful consumer population, a dominant entrepreneurial culture, connectivity facilities and policymakers efforts in positioning ICT as an enabler.[11] While for some these ambitious Smart cities urban projects have the potential to reshape Africa’s urban future,  it is argued for others that these developments are nothing else than a utopia.[12] What should be highlighted here is no matter how “smart” the efforts or the “cities” are, the focus should be emphasized on the responsibility held by policymakers in planning for the change. As H.E. President Paul Kagame goes in the Smart Africa summit “we have to think ahead. It is up to us to plan adequately for urban expansion by anticipating the higher standard of public services, housing, liveability, and economic opportunity that our citizens expect and deserve. […] technology is not a panacea, and it does not run on auto-pilot. To get the cities we want, we must always keep the people we serve at the center of our efforts. Technology alone cannot do that for us.”[13]

Hinde Adjar, Infomineo.

[1] https://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/publications/files/wup2014-highlights.pdf

[2] https://www.bearingpoint.com/en/our-success/thought-leadership/smart-cities-the-key-to-africas-third-revolution/

[3] https://issafrica.org/iss-today/africas-future-is-urban

[4] http://www.mitec.gov.rw/fileadmin/Documents/Strategy/SMART_AFRICA_Sustainable-Cities_A_Blueprint_for_Africa.pdf.pdf

[5] https://issafrica.org/research/papers/african-urban-futures

[6] https://www.bearingpoint.com/en/our-success/thought-leadership/smart-cities-the-key-to-africas-third-revolution/

[7] https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/focusgroups/ssc/Pages/default.aspx

[8] https://edition.cnn.com/2017/12/12/africa/africa-new-smart-cities/index.html

[9] http://smartcityhub.com/governance-economy/africa-smart-city-blueprint-africas-time-is-now/

[10] https://edition.cnn.com/2017/12/12/africa/africa-new-smart-cities/index.html & http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/30/business/africa-new-cities-konza-eko/index.html

[11] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/za/Documents/risk/ZA_SMARTCITIESA4(VIEW)_020615.pdf

[12] http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/30/business/africa-new-cities-konza-eko/index.html

[13] http://www.mitec.gov.rw/fileadmin/Documents/Strategy/SMART_AFRICA_Sustainable-Cities_A_Blueprint_for_Africa.pdf.pdf

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