Opinion: Why Africa needs Smart Cities more than any other continent

Picture this, in the past days,Africa has been faced with a lot of problems which we could practically avoid.

Look at it from this angle at this time and age UNICEF estimates that Over one million people die from malaria each year, mostly children under five years of age, with 90 per cent of malaria cases occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa and still a large number of people lose their lives to Typhoid and other diseases that are caused due to poor sanitation. The government uses 10-12 billion to test Malaria and typhoid and all that is needed is two billion to treat water.

In the early 1990s a report was released showing that Africa will be fighting viruses due to hygiene cases , close to a two decades now  Africa is currently finding ways to fight Ebola which is has already caused over 4000 deaths and predictions are that the number of deaths  might go as high as 20,000. Let’s shift gears to terror attacks, Africa today is not the same as Africa yesterday. Africa is turning out to be a target for this with Kenya having faced a series of attacks in the past months.

As Dr. Bitange Ndemo once paused this question to an audience in a conference, held in Nairobi by IEEE in relation to Vision 2030. “What would happen one day if terrorists decided to take advantage of the open water sources that are always piped to homes, the same water we use for different chores at homes or even industries? Millions of people would lose their lives before the government would come up with a solution. While all the government needs to do now is to come with water systems that can help monitor this water, create a centre where data collected from the source can be analysed and real time solutions provided and as well install sensors that can help detect and prevent calamities and find a way forward before any harm is done. However Solutions to all these may be all laying in the smart cities.

Smart Cities are defined by their levels of innovation and their ability to solve problems through the use of ICT. The intelligence to solve problems is linked to technology transfer for when a problem is solved. In this sense intelligence is an inner quality of any territory any place any city or region where innovation processes are facilitated through ICTs.

It is estimated by 2013 half of the World’s population was living in the cities and due to this countries not only in Africa are faced with challenges like population explosion high cost of living rising levels of insecurity , explosion of data and potential cultural clashes.

Where we go wrong as Africa is that we are moving more into curative processes that are very expensive instead of changing those resources we have now into building better facilities to reduce number of diseases, to improve sanitation, traffic, housing and other challenges we face. If we think properly and use technology to prevent such diseases from happening by providing clean water and housing, we would eliminate spread of diseases and create better life for many people and less crime.

Proposed view of the Konza smart city in Kenya

If Smart Cities platforms catch up in Africa, some resulting products would become businesses and potentially improve safety and quality of life as well as boost GDP growth in most countries. If only African leaders would borrow a leaf from Rio de Janiero in Brazil where they use sensor data productively. The city is filled with thousands of sensors that capture data ranging from street water levels to developing traffic jams. The data is streamed to a central nerve centre and city officials there use the same data captured to make real time decisions on pending emergencies or events that occur.

Today, in Kenya we have deployed CCTV cameras across the city but we need all the data collected assembled in a data analytics centre where all this data can be analysed and help give real time solutions or even help address pending emergencies, tackle traffic or even crime. Glasgow, is among the World’s Smartest Cities and all it did was to upgrade its CCTV system with 400 high –resolution cameras and plans to research around big data to predict crime. The City plans to also open a city data that people can access via an online dashboard plus it runs an app called MyGlasgow, which allows residents report problem such as uncollected bin and potholes. Simple metrics I guess!

We have a very compile reason why Africa more than any other part of the world needs to discuss about this smart cities. Africa must start to discuss the way forward. We will become more efficient if we get involved with smart cities as they will reduce crime, there will be less diseases, better monitoring facilities that is how the future can be for us if we do it. The reasons are enormous.

How we need to do it is where policy makers come in. It is much easier for the government to say we must have integrated infrastructure development, it’s much easier to deploy fibre optics all over Tokyo than here in Nairobi because Tokyo has provided infrastructure tunnels where they can lay the cables water and power within a very less period of time but we have not developed this ideas here in developing countries .We have several expertise we can leverage on to be able to build a better future for Kenya and Africa through Smart Cities.

All Africa needs is to embrace Big data and analytics for deeper insights, Cloud for collaboration, mobile to gather data to address the source directly and social technologies to better engage with citizens.

It is no longer enough for cities to provide adequate transportation, housing, water and sanitation. The cities of the future, aka ‘smart’ cities, will have to be engines for innovation and growth. Being Smarter can help change the way cities work and help us deliver on our potential as never before.


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