Smart cities in Africa

Smart cities abound in Africa, with solutions that are specific to the local environment and its very unique challenges.

Johannesburg, 01 Mar 2018
Read time 4min 40sec
Dr Deonie Botha, Strategic Manager, Sebata Municipal Solutions.
Dr Deonie Botha, Strategic Manager, Sebata Municipal Solutions.

Dr Deonie Botha, Strategic Manager, Sebata Municipal Solutions, says any discussion around smart cities has to start out by differentiating between smart and innovative - and South Africa has its share of both.

Dr Botha says: "A smart city is a city where diverse technologies are interconnected via the cloud and all of these connected devices generate big data, which can then be analysed so that decisions can be made for the greater good of the citizens of the city. An innovative city, on the other hand, is one in which improvements are made for the benefit of citizens, but these aren't necessarily ICT-based. For example, while innovative, a pizza delivery service would only be beneficial if there was actually a pizza outlet in the vicinity. Being smart alone isn't sufficient, we actually have to make a difference to people's lives."

Ultimately, the goal of a smart city is to enhance the quality of life for all citizens and deliver tangible benefits at national, provincial and municipal levels, while leveraging natural resources sensibly. A smart city produces insights that city authorities can, for example, use to improve road and rail transport, reduce crime, improve healthcare, improve public service delivery and reduce wastage of financial resources.

One also has to differentiate between smart cities in Africa compared to the rest of the world, continues Dr Botha. "Residents in Africa have different needs to people residing elsewhere in the world, so both smart and innovative technologies need to make provision for citizen-centric needs. If the goal is to emulate a smart city in Europe, like London, then residents will become very disheartened because their needs are vastly different. If you consider Cape Town, in general terms it's considered a smart city, but citizens won't benefit from free WiFi is they don't have water. While it's good to reach for the stars, you need to be very citizen-conscious and set goals that are achievable and aligned with reality."

Simply put, a smart city in Africa must be innovative, sustainable, based on knowledge of local conditions, must be citizen-centric and based on their real needs, and lastly, it must enable socioeconomic development.

She goes on to outline the role of government in developing an ICT strategy and facilitating the creation of an ecosystem of service providers that can ensure implementation of the smart city strategy. "I don't believe it is in the power of any government structure, irrespective of level, to singlehandedly create a smart city. However, it is certainly the role of government to bring various role players together in order to create smart cities; they need to have an initiating and facilitating role."

In addition to being a facilitator, government needs to draft a national ICT policy. While this can be done with input from the various stakeholders, it is the government's role to set a strategy and facilitate the process for that strategy to be implemented.

In order to achieve the goal of an effective smart city implementation, it's necessary to have the following in place:

* Necessary infrastructure and ICT;
* Creative economy and a knowledge-based society;
* Sustainability;
* Human infrastructure; and
* Skills development.

Africa has several success stories around smart city implementations. Drones are delivering medicines in East Africa and many economies use mobile phones for financial transactions.

Then there's an example of smart city technologies in the form of solar-enabled street lights that can also be used by citizens to charge their cellphones; now that's both smart and innovative, says Dr Botha. Even in rural Africa, people have access to cellphones. This is an environmentally friendly and innovative solution that has the potential to be part of a smart city solution if, for example, an entire area has these street lights and they generate data to the cloud that provides information around traffic flows.

Rwanda has an impressive smart city vision and strategy, with very clear actions and deliverables to be achieved.

Closer to home, the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality has embarked on a journey to transform Johannesburg into a smart city, one example being the implementation of prepaid water metering services that are helping reduce water and revenue losses.

These pockets of excellence illustrate that South Africa doesn't need to embark on this journey alone. Dr Botha says South Africa has a competitive edge in attaining smart city status because of factors such as urbanisation, a youthful consumer population and an entrepreneurial culture. However, the country also faces challenges that include limited infrastructure, lack of an innovation culture, limited public funding for early adopters, general fear of change as well as information and knowledge sharing silos.

Benefits of a smart city

1. Better planning and development.
2. Speedier, cheaper delivery of e-government services.
3. Local economic development.
4. Better water management.
5. Better energy management.

Sponsored content

Sebata Municipal Solutions, a subsidiary of the MICROmega Holdings Groups, has commercialised the solar-powered street lights referred to in the article, that are able to enable CCTV, mobile charging, carbon dioxide sensor, WiFi, public notifications, EV charging, motion sensing and smart screens. Read more here:

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