Smart cities Africa: Cape Town and Nairobi take the lead

Metros across Africa are exploring Smart Cities, from Accra to Cape Town to Nairobi, turning Africa’s megacities into tech and data hubs of the future.

It’s no secret that megacities across Africa are increasingly home to tech innovation. Like Smart City initiatives across the world, cities in Africa are initiating tech and data-driven solutions to overpopulation issues caused by drastically increasing urbanization. These solutions often take the form of entire new satellites or “tech cities” being built alongside existing urban areas, from the ground up.

According to Deloitte, Africa in particular is well positioned to lead the way in smart city initiatives for the following reasons:

1. Limited legacy drawbacks

Many African cities won’t face costs associated with maintenance of legacy infrastructure and systems and can easily implement new technology.

2. The rise of the African middle class

According to the African Development Bank Chief Economist Mthuli Ncube “it’s the middle class that drive demand in an economy,” and have the greatest disposable income.

3. Intense urbanization

By 2020, Africa is likely to be the fastest urbanizing continent in the world.

4. Entrepreneurial mindset

African countries are home to citizens known for entrepreneurial thinking and opportunistic approach.

5. Mobile connectivity 

African mobile subscriber growth remains the fastest in the world. Mobile penetration has reached around 72% across the continent.

In addition, mobile operators, as well as public sector organizations, are working together with the private sector to bring these initiatives to life.

Cape Town leads with smart sensors and real time data

IoT and real time data analysis has taken a particular stronghold in South Africa, where the country struggles to meet demand for electricity, water and waste management. Through sensors implemented across the major cities, municipalities can gather real-time data from millions of objects, including water meters, electricity meters, waste bins, traffic lights and street lights.

Network providers like Sqwidnet help enable data collection and sharing from these networks of IoT devices. According to Financial Mail, Sqwidnet now covers all eight metros in South Africa, and will roll out to all national roads and additional cities and towns. Network coverage aimed to exceed 85% of the South African population by the end of 2017.

Benefits of this real time data can extend across farming optimization, to traffic management by informing travellers of congestion, crime management by using sensors that detect gunshots in crime zones, and waste management, in which metros are automatically informed by sensor-equipped bins when refuse needs to be collected.

Specifically, Cape Town’s government has launched a four-pillar project in an effort to establish itself as a Smart City.

Cape Town’s Smart City Pillars

Cape Town has been hailed as one of Africa’s smartest cities, from its open data portal through which all data Cape Town registers from its citizens is made publicly available, to digital inclusion via free wifi enabled on city buses. Access to city data is just one small step in the external data revolution.

The city is already leveraging real time data efforts to improve emergency response, including fire and rescue, law enforcement and disaster risk management. The Cape Town Emergency Dispatch Centre was created to form one integrated public safety solution that facilitates operations and data sharing.

In line with this, IBM has launched a Fire Management Portal, taking fire incident data from the Cape Town open data platform and overlaying it with historical weather maps from IBM’s own weather portal. The system can predict fire incidents of high and extreme risk incredibly well, allowing officials to prepare for emergency responses.

“South Africa is a tremendous growth and transformation story, yet its increasing population and healthcare delivery shortfalls continue to pose challenges in the country,” said Solomon Assefa, director, IBM Research – Africa. “With the ability to detect patterns and discover new correlations, cognitive and cloud computing and the Internet of Things can provide potential solutions.”

As well, the city’s remote utilities meter reading, part of South Africa’s IoT  has eliminated manual data-capture errors and helped to reduce water usage and energy consumption by 10%.

Nairobi’s Konza Technopolis poised to become the “Silicon Valley of Africa”

Already deemed the Silicon Savannah, Kenya’s Smart City efforts are well underway. Konza Techno City, 60km from the centre of Nairobi, is currently in planning stages. The proposed satellite city will gather data from smart devices and sensors embedded in roadways and buildings, enabling optimization of traffic and infrastructure, smart communication services and improved citizen participation.

Kenya has a track record of successfully implementing large-scale technological innovations that enhance inclusiveness and connectivity, from widespread adoption of Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money schema, now in 10 countries, boasting 29.5 million active users and processing up to 614 million transactions per month, to pay-as-you-go solar energy initiatives like m-Kopa.

According to its Smart City plan, Konza’s population will have direct access to collected data, including things like traffic maps, emergency warnings, and energy and water consumption. “The availability of data will enable Konza’s population to participate directly in the operations of the city, practice more sustainable living patterns, and enhance overall inclusiveness.”

Plans for satellite cities pop up in Accra, Lagos and Kigali

From Nigeria’s Eko Atlantic built on land reclaimed from the sea, to Accra’s Hope City intended to house the continent’s largest skyscraper, to Kigali’s Vision City and Nairobi’s Konza Technopolis, ambitious tech-forward hubs are underway following closely in the footsteps of predecessors like Dubai and Singapore. Often, they’re built on the edge of existing cities and intend to offer scalable housing and amenities, in addition to IoT-driven infrastructure and public access to city data.

“These new cities, like Eko Atlantic in Lagos in Nigeria and Waterfall City (South Africa), bring a new model where urban governance is shared between the private and public sector,” Mira Slavov, a fellow at LSE who writes on African smart citiestold CNN.

Online breadcrumbs create new wave of data insights in Africa

“In Africa, there is so little information that sits in traditional databases and sources. So they go to your behavior online, your behavior on the phone, and use that to create, for example, as good a credit rating as those you find in other places in the world.” – Jorn Lyseggen

Known for their technological leapfrogging and fast adoption of mobile connectivity, African cities are working to position themselves as the next frontier for smart, data-driven urban optimization.

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