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Important technological development lessons from Africa's smart cities

Many cities around the world are becoming smarter thanks to the constant advancements of technology. Africa may be developing at a slow pace compared to other continents around the world. Still, it is home to some of the smartest cities, where technological innovations drive urbanisation solutions.

These include cities like Cape Town in South Africa, Nairobi in Kenya, Port Louis in Mauritius, Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Lagos in Nigeria and more. 

Smart cities use digital technologies to make the lives of residents easy. Mckinsey aptly explains that smartphones have become the primary keys to the city – “Smartphones have become the keys to the city, putting instant information about transit, traffic, health services, safety alerts, and community news into millions of hands.”

What makes a city a smart city?

TWI Global TWI Global describes a smart city as one that “uses information and communication technology (ICT) to improve operational efficiency, share information with the public and provide a better quality of government service and citizen welfare.”

“The main goal of a smart city is to optimise city functions and promote economic growth while also improving the quality of life for citizens by using smart technologies and data analysis. The value lies in how this technology is used rather than simply how much technology is available.”

A city is smart if it has these following features:

  • An infrastructure built around technology
  • Environmental initiative drives
  • Effective and highly functional public transportation
  • Strategically progressive city plans
  • People able to live and work within the city, using its resources without challenges.

What technological lessons can be learned from smart cities?

Transforming a city to a smart city isn’t easy; it requires specific and specialised strategies to achieve. But if the above-mentioned cities can do it and thrive, other African countries can follow suit and consider the lessons from the already established cities. These lessons include the following.

Digital transformation is no longer a luxury but a need

Smart cities use digital transformation to drive the necessary changes required to make a city liveable, inclusive and sustainable for its inhabitants. This is because digital transformation makes operation processes more efficient and profitable. 

Leverage digital technologies

Leveraging digital technologies has several benefits, such as addressing digital inequalities. Digital technologies include electronic tools, systems, devices and resources that generate, store and process data. Digital technologies used by smart cities, according to Tomorrow City, include: 

  • Big data – refers to a collection of data that is complex and huge in volumes. This information is analysed to get insights for decision making. For example, a transport big data system will be used to understand and estimate users’ needs on different routes and multiple modes of transportation and then utilise route planning to reduce their wait time.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – in the context of smart cities, AI can be used to bridge the gap and collect data from traffic cameras. This data is used to help with solutions to make city living easy for those who live and commute to the city.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) – refers to a system of interrelated, internet-connected objects that can collect and transfer data over a wireless network such as the cloud. An example of an IoT in a smart city would be smart parking.
  • Connectivity – telecommunication that allows users to connect, such as free public wi-fi accessible in public transportation.
  • Smart public transportation – a clean and efficient transportation system that makes commuting easier for users.

The challenge, however, is that for these lessons to be replicated and implemented, the infrastructure must be available. Investment is a critical resource that can facilitate infrastructure development. The DBSA makes this a possibility through our fund management solution. 

This solution allows us to engage with development financial institutions and the market to develop financial instruments that will enable investments for infrastructure development in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. We use acquired funding to facilitate ICT infrastructure projects.

Final thoughts

Building smart cities is an innovative strategy that assists in making city life easier for its residents and growing the national economy. If cities that haven’t yet tapped into the abilities of digital technologies are looking to learn how to build a smart city, the above information is a sufficient guide to help them get started. The DBSA is committed to helping the cities in the sub-Saharan region realise this dream through digital infrastructure development.