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Smart cities hold the key to rapid Africa urbanisation

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A section of Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The overarching aim of a smart city is to enhance the quality of living for its citizens through smart technology.
  • Experts allude to the fact that the fundamental aspect of a smart city is not the number of sensors or devices it contains, but rather the use of technology.

It may have escaped public attention when last year, global l ICT giant Huawei confirmed the introduction of a $1.5 billion (Sh10.5 trillion) global financing to fuel the development of smart city infrastructure – with specific attention to increasing activity in Africa.

According to Huawei, the financing will be directed towards supporting African governments and smart city builders construct systems for critical communications and Intelligent Video Surveillance.

The development comes at a time when safe city programmes are now a top priority for governments across Africa.

However, budget constraints remain the biggest challenge thus impacting on efforts to intensify smart city initiatives.

So why the huge interest and big money being channeled towards smart cities?

For starters, Wikipedia describes a smart as a city that incorporates information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation and utilities in order to reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs.

The overarching aim of a smart city is to enhance the quality of living for its citizens through smart technology

Experts allude to the fact that the fundamental aspect of a smart city is not the number of sensors or devices it contains, but rather the use of technology that enables city planners and other government bodies to reduce the stress on a city’s infrastructure and unlock a better standard of living for its citizens.

Be it an automated management system, digital government services, digital sourcing of information, mobile apps or the possibility of connecting with government officials via social media platforms, in smart cities citizens leverage technology to improve everyday processes.

With cities of emerging economies expected to double from two billion to four billion people between 2000 and 2030—accompanied by a tripling of their physical footprint from 200,000 to 600,000 square kilometres—the policies and investments that get this rapid urbanization right hold the key to resilient and sustainable development.

The good news is that cities in the developing world can build on the knowledge of those that have been successful before them and combine these insights with homegrown solutions and innovations to catalyse the engines of job creation, centres of innovation, and gateways to the global marketplace.

So, where and when do we start? The answer is we start' with a discussion with government and other policy makers. But we all know that the end of the discussion will be 'what will be the budget?' or 'where are the budget constraints?' or 'we do not have any budget' especially if one looks at how smart cities and digital transformation is being formalised and established.

When it comes to budget plans, governments will have to make provision for upgrades, migrations or acquisitions such as additional technology which will be an effective vehicle to help manage these processes.

One of the best options to navigate this is through the public private initiative model because it's not a government-driven item alone, it is also not a private sector driven item alone especially when we talk about investing in smarter cities in Africa.