Africa, Nairobi and Cape Town are on their way to become the continent’s first smart cities, says Africa researcher Otavio Veras, from the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. He regards the two cities as bright examples of how one can utilize technology and use the large amount of data citizens generate every second to optimise resources, to connect people and to improve business and trading.
What is a smart city? It's a city like Singapore, considered to be the world’s smartest city. It targets energy savings and adopts environmentally-friendly technologies. The city managers use different technologies that help make life and business better and in a sustainable way, ranging from waste containers that can inform the waste collection company when they are full to weather sensors that manage automatic watering systems for green areas and detect leaks. A range of sensors can also provide information on air pollution, noise and river levels that could be used to prevent floods.
Singapore has been exporting its expertise to Africa for many years. Singaporean Information and communication technologies (ICT) company CrimsonLogic, opened an office in Mauritius in 1994. From there, the company started a steady expansion across the continent, with a presence in Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Ghana. According to researcher Veras, Nairobi and Cape Town are the frontrunners among smart cities on the continent.
Nairobi, Africa’s smart city champion #1
Otavio Veras, Research Associate Centre for African Studies (CAS) of the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU), is enthusiastic about Nairobi’s steps. Veras, who published his visions on ‘How we made it in Africa’: “For two subsequent years, Nairobi was awarded the title of most intelligent city in Africa. The award was created by the Intelligent Community Forum, a think-tank devoted to study how ICT can tackle social and governmental challenges to improve lives in urban areas.”
Africa has the advantage of great mobile connectivity and relatively cheap cost of using mobile data. Countries such as Kenya are taking the lead with mobile money and payment, and building infrastructure to support the digital economy. Kenya as a whole saw its ICT sector grow steadily over the past decade. The number of mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people has jumped from 13.5 to 81.9 between 2005 and 2015, surpassing the regional average of 74.6 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 people.”
Veras regards the country as the world leader in the use of mobile phones for money transfer. In 2007, mobile phone operator launched M-Pesa, a mobile money system that allows people to transfer money and pay bills. “Currently two thirds of Kenya’s population use this service, transacting around US$28bn, or 44% of the country’s GDP, through a network of over 40,000 Safaricom agents. In Kenya, over 58% of the population use mobile phones for money transfer, and Africa largely adopted the use of e-wallets.”
Cape Town, Africa’s smart city champion #2
Cape Town is Otavio Veras’ other champion. The city’s government has made strong efforts in digital infrastructure, digital inclusion, e-government and digital economy. Veras explains: “On the forefront of innovative technology is the Cape Town Emergency Dispatch Centre, the nerve system of the city. The Centre uses resource planning software SAP to create one integrated public safety solution that facilitates operations and data sharing. The data is used for fire and rescue, traffic, metro police, law enforcement, disaster risk management, and its investigative unit.”
The city also implemented a remote utilities meter reading, that allows the government to better plan how to invest new resources in the city. “The metering system has helped to reduce water usage and energy consumption by 10%. The city also installed solar heaters in 10% of private homes”, Veras states, adding that all the data Cape Town registers from its citizens is publicly available through the open data portal website. Local universities, research institutions, innovation centres, start-ups and government agencies are the main users of the free database.”
Cape Town also embarked fully on e-government initiatives. Veras: “Currently Cape Town’s citizens can pay all utility bills using the internet, apply for municipal services, licenses and permits, report a crime or emergency, request municipal service or maintenance, among other things. It provides a wide set of services that can be completed from the comfort of one’s home or office.”
Cape Town is home to a range of interesting smartphone apps connecting citizens and the city. Launched in 2014, WhereIsMyTransport (WIMT) is a platform that integrates information about fares, frequency and routes from informal transportation modes to regular ones like BRT, bus, and rail. The data is publicly available to anyone who wants to build an app or website.”
Otavio Veras concludes that successful smart cities have something in common. “Its citizens benefit from the monetisation of municipal services. It can range from installing paid parking meters, to collecting public macro-data such as car parking spaces, traffic congestion, trash bins levels, energy and water use, satellite imagery, population density, and crime statistics. The data is then converted into useable information, that benefits citizens.”
Otavio Veras can be reached at the Centre for African Studies (CAS) of the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU), firstname.lastname@example.org.