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Smart cities offer solution to Africa's urbanization problems

2024-05-11 | China Daily | By Dennis Munene


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The development of smart cities in Africa is on the rise. This is a result of the acceleration of urbanization across the continent through the emergence of growing economies that are advancing the African renaissance dream.

These smart cities are integrating technology within urban planning, infrastructure development and the overall governance system to enhance efficiency, sustainability and quality of life for all civilizations.

Smart cities are designed to solve urban problems and provide citizens with a better living environment. The United Nations has projected that by 2030, Africa's urban population will increase by 350 million people. This in turn would push the continent's overall population to reach close to 2.5 billion people, and the global urbanization rate to increase to about 66 percent, by 2050.

This population increase in urban areas will create new challenges and problems. Crime, overcrowding, an increase in slum dwellers and environmental degradation, among other social disorder issues, will be on the rise.

Thus, to solve some of these issues, innovative information and communication technologies such as the internet of things, big data, cloud computing and data virtualization have become widely used in the design and development of smart cities.

Conceptually, the idea of the smart city has attracted worldwide interest, including among governments, private companies, think tanks and institutions of higher learning. Appearing for the first time in the early 1990s as described by many researchers, the concept of a smart city has fundamentally changed the living environment of citizens and the governing model of cities that have adopted the revolutionary idea. Smart cities are better-governed cities. The population can express its opinions using various technological platforms, which are usually convenient, and so, in this way, responses are swift.

Thus, as Africa embarks on its 21st-century modernization path, the continent's countries are gradually making their mark in driving the smart city revolution. According to the IMD Smart City Index 2023, countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria and Ghana are leading in the promotion of the smart city concept in Africa. These countries are embracing modernity to enrich the lives of their people and shape a smart future for mankind that seeks harmony among innovation, humanity and nature.

As a case in point, the development of Konza Technopolis in Kenya as a smart city will see the integration of an urban information and communication technology network. Upon completion, Konza Technopolis will host over 230,000 people who will live and work in the smart city. This initiative is a national flagship project under Vision 2030, Kenya's economic development blueprint, which seeks to catapult the country to middle-income status by 2030.

In November 2022, Kenyan President William Ruto also proposed the creation of five smart cities in the nation. These cities will be developed as special economic zones that aim for zero carbon. Therefore, if well implemented, all the proposed smart cities will have an innovation hub to promote creative startup companies and offer financial help to businesses to enable them to reach their potential.

In his state of the nation address in June 2019, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed the dream of building a South African smart city. In fast-tracking the initiative, South Africa has developed a smart cities framework to provide municipalities, provincial and national government, the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders with information about smart cities. Indeed, legislating the development of smart cities becomes the surest way to implement the initiatives. What are the driving factors leading to the rise of smart cities in Africa? A report by Deloitte says that Africa has limited legacy infrastructure and systems to maintain, compared with other civilizations. In addition, Africa has a youthful consumer population that will provide a secure customer base for smart cities, and the continent has a rising middle-income group that has disposable income to invest in smart cities. Last but not least, Africa has positioned information and communication technology as an enabler for driving the smart cities concept, due to the increase in access to internet and mobile phone connectivity.

The rise of smart cities in Africa is certainly the antidote for solving the challenges that accompany rapid urbanization, through the use of smart technologies and innovative practices.

Author: Dennis Munene,executive director of the China-Africa Center at the Kenya-based Africa Policy Institute.

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