Rwanda is on a campaign to transform Kigali, its capital city of rolling hills and low-rise buildings, into a smart city where urban living has been optimized. Already, Rwandan officials like to stress how much technology is part of daily life, from social media to registering births, deaths and marriages online or paying speeding tickets through cell phones.
Vision City, a housing project under construction on a hill overlooking Kigali, is expected to have free wifi in the town square, solar-powered street lamps, a 36-meter antenna, powered by the sun to beam 4G LTE to residents, and motion sensors that trigger the electricity when one walks into one of these homes. The ambitious aim is to institute such changes to the rest of Kigali and most of the country within the next 20 years. In addition, a special economic zone to the east of the capital will be home to Kigali Innovation City. This will be a hub for tech incubators, universities, and companies both local and international. Firms based here will enjoy preferential income tax rates, tax holidays, and waived customs duties.
Smart City development has been ongoing in Africa. Nigeria has a smart city initiative which has started with the construction of an artificial island near Lagos. Ghana has tech hubs and South Africa has smart residential and business districts. Ethiopia’ s capital, Addis Ababa, has recently launched a smart parking system. Overall, smart city adoption is one of the tenets of the 2063 development plan of the African Union.
In a lot of ways, African cities are ideal candidates for transformation into smart cities. The percentage of Africans living in urban areas has risen dramatically to almost 40%, which is higher than in South Asia. So far, however, African smart city initiatives tend to be underwhelming Most of them face major delays in their completion. And even those that have been completed did not have a particularly significant impact. One reason might be that unlike large cities in rich countries, Africa’ s megacities are not “agglomerations’ of labor and productivity, but just congested, with the majority of urban dwellers uneducated and unskilled. Indeed, more than 60% of people in African cities are living in slums, and smart city initiatives tend to ignore this. Furthermore, smart city initiatives tend to focus on capitals (as in the case of Kigali) when most of the continent’ s urbanization will come from smaller towns turning into cities, rather than migration to existing urban centers.
The original article can be found in Quartz Africa.