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African nations start to focus on smart city initiatives

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Acute urbanization combined with years of infrastructure neglect creates challenges on path to smart city projects in Africa

Despite most of Africa’s largest cities are still undergoing an urbanization process, smart city initiatives are being embraced by a number of African governments.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) defines a smart city as “an innovative city that uses ICTs and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.”

According to a previous study by Deloitte, African cities have particular challenges stemming from years of hostilities and neglect of infrastructure. Rapid urban migration of the population is placing demands on existing infrastructure and transportation networks which are beyond their original design.

“Over the past decade large multinational Information Technology (IT) companies have begun predicting Africa to be “the next big market” due to the emergence of many rapidly growing economies,” Deloitte said. “As such it is a fair statement to make that many African cities are at the cross road of velocious development in one shape or another, providing the unique opportunity for cities to innovate and lead a new generation of thinking whilst demonstrating tangible benefits to their citizens and to the world.”

According to the study, African studies need to embrace smart city projects in order to become globally competitive.

In May 2017, the government of Rwanda unveiled an initiative to guide African cities to adopt use of innovative digital technologies to deal with some of the pressing problems they face. The blueprint was launched during the Transform Africa Summit 2017

The blueprint provides a framework of policies and programmes that could be adopted in African cities to make them smart and sustainable through integrating innovative technologies at all levels of service delivery and urban management.

In addition, the blueprint urges African countries to seek non-traditional sources of financing for the deployment of smart city initiatives such as public-private partnerships (PPPs) and smart bonds.

Countries such as Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, and Ethiopia have already launched smart cities initiatives. The Nigerian Smart City Initiative, announced last June, aims to increase the country’s ICT innovations and showcase ways through which they can be linked with physical infrastructure to improve service delivery. In Ethiopia, the city of Addis Ababa has implemented a smart parking project, which uses Chinese technology to park cars in a steel structure building using an automated lift. IBM has also evaluated a number of smart city initiatives in Ghana to assess ways to use technology to implement economic and social reform in capital Accra.

Rwanda is one of the most active countries in Africa in terms of smart city initiatives. The local government has launched the Irembo platform, which seeks to create e-government services to allow citizens to complete public processes online, such as registering for driving exams and requesting birth certificates.

In addition, the African nation is active in involving the private sector in its goal towards creating smart cities. In mid-May, the Rwandan government launched a partnership with Nokia and SRG in order to deploy smart city technology. The project involves investment in network connectivity and sensor deployment to improve public safety, waste management, utility management, and health care.

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