Building smart cities is a key to urbanization in Africa
Building smart cities is a key to urbanization in Africa
By Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr.

The advent of digital technologies, though more pervasive in some economies than others, continues to change many areas of human lives, administration, and modern society.

From smartphones and computers to other highly intelligent appliances, we can no longer deny that technology is the power behind the smart world we live in today.

In recent times, the quest to create smart cities has become one shared by many countries across the globe. For instance cities such as Singapore, Dubai, Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, New York, and London, are ranked among the top ten smart cities in the world. Is there any wonder such countries are top destinations for individuals who wish to enjoy fully what technology has to offer?

A report that was published by the International Data Corporation indicates that globally, smart city technology spending amounted to $80bn in 2016. By 2021, it’s been projected to grow to $135bn. Why is there so much focus on smart cities?

More than a passing fancy, smart cities have gone beyond a trend to becoming the future especially as the world grows increasingly more urban. Cities are digitally transformed to enhance the financial, social, and environmental aspects of urban life.

In fact, the United Nations estimates that more than half the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and by 2050, the figure is expected to climb to 68 per cent. So, what’s a smart city?

The truth is that there is no one universally accepted definition of a smart city. The notion differs from city to city and country to country, taking into consideration factors such as the level of development, desire to adapt, available resources, and ambitions of the government and city dwellers mean different things to different people.

That said, a smart city is described as one that heavily relies on the integration of Internet of Things solutions to optimize infrastructure.

Through sensors, networks, and applications connected to different components, it derives data, analyzes data, communicates insights and/or solutions derived from data analysis with decision-makers through strong communication networks, and deploys such solutions, thereby improving the lives of citizens and visitors alike.

Perhaps now more than ever, it is important to leverage smart city technology. Why? The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled a number of regions to innovate, utilising new technologies to address their challenges.

To illustrate, Singapore, developed contact tracing system programmes to help curb the spread of the deadly virus. The first, the SafeEntry programme, contains QR codes that citizens scan to enter public arenas like malls or offices, that alert them if an infected person is in their vicinity. The second, TraceTogether programme, uses Bluetooth-enabled smartphones to track close encounters with active carriers of the virus.

With regards to transportation, smart city technology can be used to connect vehicles, infrastructure, public transit, and people to enhance mobility and safety.

In Amsterdam, citizens use a smart traffic management system, where traffic is monitored in real-time, giving them real-time information on the best route at a given time.

Though I can go on and on, however, what I have illustrated is that the adoption of smart cities has come to stay, and what’s more, countries are milking technology for all its worth.

According to Serena Da Rold, a program manager at IDC, “Smart cities have recently evolved from a collection of discrete flagship projects to a sizeable market opportunity that will drive significant technology investments in 2018 and beyond.

“IDC believes that the strategic priorities we identified will drive digital transformation across cities of all sizes, but our research demonstrates that there can be significant differences in the focus of investments across regions,”

“The new spending guide is a powerful tool to help vendors identify where the best opportunities lie for each specific use case now and over the next several years,” she added.

The building of smart cities presents unlimited opportunities as tech companies, startups, and other players ranging from telecom businesses to governments looking to develop technology to help cities efficiently provide proper foundation, energy, transportation, healthcare, resources, employment, and services to their residents.

That Africa has become home to tech innovations is no secret; as such, the continent is keying into the current digital revolution. Like what obtained in developed economies, cities in Africa are launching tech and data-driven solutions to drive growth and urbanization.

Taking a brief look at the strides made by Cape Town, Kenya, and Nigeria, it is undeniable that Africa is gaining momentum and is well-positioned to lead the way in smart city initiatives.

African countries pioneering smart cities initiatives

Cape Town has gained recognition as one of Africa’s smartest cities. Through sensors implemented across the major cities, municipalities can gather real-time data from including water meters, electricity meters, waste bins, traffic lights, and street lights.

Also, the city implements real-time data efforts to improve emergency response, including fire and rescue, law enforcement, and disaster risk management.

The building of Kenya’s Smart City Konza Techno City is underway. Described as Silicon Savannah, the proposed city 60km away from the country’s capital, Nairobi, will use data from smart devices and sensors embedded in roadways and buildings to optimize traffic, infrastructure and communication services, making lives easier for its residents.

In the very heart of Lagos is Eko Atlantic, a project which has evolved from a big vision to a technological wonder, bearing testament to Nigeria’s ambition to build a skyscraper district similar to Manhattan, New York. Part of its design includes independent reliable electricity, advanced fibre optic telecoms, and clean water utility services.

One initiative that supports the development of Lagos into a smart city is EHINGBETI, an economic summit that holds biennially. Hosted by the Lagos State Government the conference now in its 8th edition serves as a platform where members of both the private and public sectors can contribute to conversations on the socio-economic and infrastructural development of Lagos State.

While there’s still much ground to cover in terms of creating smart cities in Africa, there’s no doubt that the continent is on its way to achieving great things.

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