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The imperative of African ‘Smart Cities’

By Diran Abidakun
01 June 2016   |   4:23 am
Global city population is growing at an alarming rate. Experts are predicting that the world’s urban population which currently stands at about 55 per cent could increase ...
Source: Google

Source: Google

Global city population is growing at an alarming rate. Experts are predicting that the world’s urban population which currently stands at about 55 per cent could increase by over 20-25 per cent between now and 2050……and Africa and Asia are expected to produce the bulk of this increase. Indeed, the 2014 revision of the United Nations Urbanisation Prospect Report projects three countries – Nigeria, India and China – to account for as high as 40 per cent of this growth. This situation which sees cities originally planned for hundreds of thousands of people accommodating millions presents very serious challenges for cities in a number of areas.

The first is infrastructural pressure, this situation puts massive weight on already pressurised city infrastructural systems such as transportation, housing, water, power, healthcare, education and much more. The second is a polarised economic growth. According to the McKinsey study of global cities, 80 per cent of global GDP is generated in cities with 50 per cent in the 380 major cities of the developed world and 10 per cent in the largest 220 cities of the developing world. In 2025, these top 600 cities are expected to generate over 60 per cent of the global GDP. This makes general global development very skewed in favour of cities. Thirdly, the current global economic climate places huge budgetary constraints on cities, which are becoming limited in their ability to respond to the social and economic pressures brought about by an increasing population. The fourth concern is the problem of increased Greenhouse-Gas Emissions (GHGs). GHGs are forcing cities to develop sustainability strategies for energy generation and distribution, transportation, water management, urban planning, and eco-friendly (green) buildings.

The fifth issue that of safety and security. The population expansion in cities is a huge reason for the challenge in solving crimes and efficiently responding to emergencies as current systems did not envisage the current population in its development. These challenges are causing governments around the world to shift their attention to the smarter and more efficient use of technology for the integrated and sustained development of their cities, communities and people.

Of all the technologies in the world today, Smart City technologies hold one of the greatest potentials in transforming the socio-economic lives of urban communities around the world. Through its integrated approach, Smart City technologies are geared towards providing integrated solutions to government’s most depressing problems in the areas of healthcare, transportation, environment, public safety, security, energy and others.

The important question then is: What is a smart city? There is no one-size-fits –all definition for smart cities, as different cities and communities define their smartness based on their peculiar realities. This includes variables such as their level of technological development or the presence/absence of the basic technology infrastructure, the willingness or ability of the populace to adopt and adapt to changes, the available resources and of course the level of aspiration of the general citizenry for a better and more improved life.

However, we can simply define a smart city as an urban area which creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life for its citizens by excelling in key multiple areas such as governance, energy, economy, mobility, environment, healthcare, education and infrastructure through the use of a strong ICT infrastructure.
In times past, there was the misconception of viewing the smart city concept as being unnecessarily expensive and thus only applicable for the western world. One major aim of this article therefore, is to show that Africa more than any other part of the world, urgently need to take advantage of the potentials that smart city technologies hold in assisting the continent to bridge the huge socio-economic and infrastructural gap with the rest of the world.

In a recent study published by Deloitte Africa, the company identified that like mobile telephony which allowed Africa to in a few years bridge its gap with the rest of the world in terms of communication technology and infrastructure, smart city technologies hold the best key for assisting African cities leapfrog their long years of neglect and infrastructural decay into a golden area of modern living. The question that arises from this then is: if smart city technologies are not meant for Africa – which region of the world can we say needs these technologies more than Africa?

One, all the challenges for which smart city technologies were designed and developed to meet are more pronounced in Africa than in any other part of the world. In other words, if it is energy, Africa suffers from inadequate power more than any part of the word.
Two, the huge socio-economic and infrastructural gap between Africa and the rest of the world calls for the use of proven technologies to radically intervene or assist in bridging these gaps especially in the areas healthcare, energy, education, environment, transportation, security and others.

Abidakun is a Smart City Consultant.