Smart Cities: A comprehensive approach to the sustainable development of Africa
A 2012 report by the African Development Bank projects that urban population in Africa will rise from 36% in 2010 to 60% by 2050. This rapid growth will pose a great challenge to most African cities unless they start leveraging on the emerging concepts of smart cities and sustainable development.
Already, virtually every city in Africa is grappling with the proliferation of slums, inadequate infrastructure, urban poverty and rising inequality. With proper planning for of sustainable cities, however, these challenges are not insurmountable. Africa can overcome the difficulties and put its people on the right path to socio-economic development.
In order to overcome the hurdles facing African cities, effectives strategies must be formulated and put in place to address the precipitous rural-urban migration, corruption (especially grabbing of land meant for public utilities and affordable housing), and respect for the rule of law. Because of these setbacks, existing social amenity systems are failing to the extent that the cost of repair has become prohibitive. The fact that services are not integrated exacerbates the problem and further erodes efficiency.
It is not uncommon in most cities to find that utility providers work in silos such that water service will dig across the road to lay their infrastructure and a few days later the power company will do the same, with telecommunication companies following soon after to install cables. With luck, they will try to restore the area they have dug up to its previous state. Too often, though, they leave the marks of their handiwork – unfortunately not a pretty sight. With smart cities concept, these expensive infrastructure deployment methods would be replaced by more efficient methods that promote sharing of ducts.
In his January 2016 article, A Roadmap for Development, Professor Sam Musa defined a smart city as “a city that engages its citizens and connects its infrastructure electronically. A smart city has the ability to integrate multiple technological solutions, in a secure fashion, to manage the city’s assets. The city’s assets include, but not limited to, local departments information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, law enforcement, and other community services. The goal of building a smart city is to improve the quality of life by using technology to improve the efficiency of services and meet residents’ needs.”
Citizens are rising up to utilize information and communication technologies to empower themselves, improve productivity, expand democracy to the voiceless, and become players in the innovation dynamics of their own cities.
According to Mathew Kahn’s World Bank Policy Research Paper, Sustainable and Smart Cities, sustainability of cities can be seen through three lenses. First it involves the elements of the quality of life, that is, water, clean air and green space, which have direct effects on the urban public’s health and productivity.
The second lensedeals with how well the city manages greenhouse emissions as they invest in new infrastructure, build water treatment, water delivery, industrial parks and sewage disposal systems. These have to be in line with the simultaneous decisions made by residents as to where they will live and work, and whether they should also invest in some of the convenient properties like private vehicles that in the long run would undermine their livelihood.
The third lense focuses on a city’s resilience to natural disasters and extreme weather events. The brunt of extreme weather conditions often impact the urban poor more as they are usually less equipped to deal with anticipated effects of climate change. The recent Sierra Leone mudslide is a classic example of where a majority of the poor living precariously on the hillsides were decimated.
It is noteworthy that citizens are rising up to utilize information and communication technologies to empower themselves, improve productivity, expand democracy to the voiceless, and become players in the innovation dynamics of their own cities. In Nairobi, Kenya, young people have come together to bring order to a slum that had grown too big for policy makers to effectively provide services to its residents.
Map Kibra is changing the narrative of this two square mile informal settlement that carries some 300,000 household. Earlier Non-Governmental Organizations and government estimates had put the population at one million, but it turned out to be an exaggeration used to attract funding. By mapping the slum, all assets can be identified and the census of its residents can be ascertained, resulting in the revision of several policy measures.
Aerial View of the Kibra Slum before Digitization
Picture by Ground Truth
Whilst in the past the Government thought they had provided enough schools, it emerged that it only had four percent of the schools in the slum. Many of the schools were run by Churches, Mosques and other charity organization as social enterprises, but considered as private by government classification. Many of the students from “private” schools could not get admission to elite public schools. However, when it emerged that these schools were not really private,this concrete evidence that the policy undermined the poor led to the government changing its policy in response to.
Kibra after Digitization
Courtesy of Map Kibra
Building sustainable and smart cities in the era of digital transformation is imperative. Policy decision making has become complex and needs data such as what Map Kibra did to reverse the education policy in Kenya. Africa has many young, educated people who could help create smart cities across Africa,and as a consequence build new and innovative enterprises to create jobs and wealth.
John F. Kennedy said, “We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation.”