African countries are still at the early stages of the urbanization process, but they are quickly catching up with the rest of the world. While Africa was the least urbanized region in the world in 2015, it is now the second fastest urbanizing region behind Asia, which it is expected to surpass by 2020.
This rapid growth rate provides an excellent reason for African policymakers to incorporate smart city planning to their strategies. Africa’ s delay in urbanization can prove an advantage in this respect, as new cities or city districts can be designed with smart city solutions in mind from the start. For example, new cities or districts can directly install the newest available ICT infrastructure and avoid the significant costs of removing or upgrading older ICT infrastructure. In addition, the booming young population of Africa is more likely to adopt technology, including smart city technologies, and to produce innovation.
There is currently a continent-wide push for smart cities in progress. In last May’ s 2017 Transform Africa Summit, the government of Rwanda presented the Smart Cities Blueprint, a framework aimed to accelerate the adoption of ICT-driven initiatives in cities across Africa. The report contains 10 steps to creating a smart city, the most notable of which are collecting data, identifying city development challenges, implementing pilot projects, and evaluating project efficiency. Furthermore, it urges African countries to face the issue of obtaining funding by considering non-traditional sources of funding such as public-private partnerships, smart bonds and spread shareholding.
At the national level, several smart city efforts and initiatives are progressing throughout Africa. Rwanda is a pioneer in the field, and is currently modernizing its capital, Kigali, and launching other initiatives to modernize and simplify public services by the use of an e-governance platform. Nigeria’ s Smart City Initiative aims to increase ICT innovations and link them with physical infrastructure. Ethiopia is piloting an impressive smart parking project using Chinese technology. Ghana is working with IBM in order to assess ways of using technology to implement economic and social reform.
Smart cities can aid the rapid urbanization of African countries and improve the quality of life of the new city dwellers, solving some of the biggest challenges of the urban environment, such as high-cost, low-quality, and inaccessible services. However, in order for the continent to reap the benefits, planners and policymakers must keep the big picture in mind when promoting smart cities, emphasizing well-implemented infrastructure and citizen needs.
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