Personal Finance

What smart cities idea needs to get off ground


An Artistic impression of the Konza Technopolis Park in Malili. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Smart cities may be the future trend in the next few years. A smart city is one that takes advantage of technology to collect data and use it to manage resources for public good.

The aim of a smart city is to increase the life quality. The top 10 smart cities in the world are those that have used this technology to increase public services.

Vienna, Amsterdam and Tokyo are well known for ambitious green energy solutions while London, Paris, Stockholm and Seoul do well in terms of transportation. Amsterdam made the list for government digitisation services.

In Africa, there are ambitious plans to establish smart cities from the Konza dream in Kenya to Vision City in Rwanda and Hope City Ghana.

Hands up, if you almost bought some property in Konza, in anticipation of owning a chunk of the “First African smart city that would equal Silicon Valley”. I almost did.

Many urban residents in neighbouring Nairobi were scrambling to have a piece of Konza. That was the hype 10 years ago.

I had a look at the Ministry of ICT’s digital economy blueprint and got impressed. It envisioned a digitally empowered citizenry living in a digital society.

There is an appreciation of Kenya’s need to adapt to digital changes spanning government services, business infrastructure, entrepreneurship and application of digital skills and values.


Back to smart cities. Many countries have smart blueprints, for example the Hong Kong Smart City Plan envisions application of technology in transport, including a smart airport. A smart airport!

The Konza concept began when the Government acquired 5,000 acres that would be the site of the project.

A smart city is not an easy concept to actualise. The capital requirements are huge; for example, years ago more than Sh1 trillion was required to actualise Konza.

There are many legal risks in establishing such a concept that if not well handled can result in litigation.

Land acquisition is one case that goes into establishing a such a city. Infrastructure regulations also apply, for example licences and permits. And the new concept of infrastructure known as the smart digital infrastructure.

Data protection laws play a huge role in smart cities as they operate by data connectivity. Data privacy laws have to be honoured.


Despite the stringent legal requirements, there is an opportunity for innovators to think ahead of time, and begin to innovate smart city solutions.

Kenyan innovators can begin to visualise the smart cities concept and protect their creations by use of intellectual property rights.

Real estate developers also have a chance to begin conceptualising “smart estates”. Estates or real estate projects that employ innovative technology to improve livelihoods.

We already have smart homes where most functions are powered by technology.