In conversation with Lebogang Leshabane, CEO and director of iX engineers in South Africa and architect Annah Musyimi, the chief manager for physical, planning, design and compliance at Konza Technopolis in Kenya, ESI Africa delves deeper into smart cities in the African context, how we are tracking and where we should be concentrating our efforts.
The ultimate goal of a smart city is transformational: to achieve an enhanced quality of life for citizens and deliver tangible benefits at national, provincial and municipal levels while leveraging our natural resources judiciously.
Global research company MarketsandMarkets note the global smart cities market is expected to grow from $410.8 billion in 2020 to $820.7 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate of 14.8%. While a recent Frost & Sullivan report projects smart cities will create business opportunities worth $2.46 trillion by 2025. The report predicts these cities will spend $327 billion on technology by 2025.
A two-pronged approach to smart cities in Africa hinges on whether a project is either a greenfield or brownfield. Many, if not all, innovative city projects in Africa are greenfields. As there are no existing operational African smart cities to benchmark effectively, developers have devised standards and guidelines for Africa.
Policy as a hindrance and opportunity
A hurdle for Africa is and has always been the lack of policy frameworks. A gap exists in how policy can support technology developments in smart cities. Konza Technopolis, a flagship project of Kenya’s Vision 2030 economic development portfolio, plans several charging stations to provide electric vehicles and driverless cars for public transportation. However, government policy on traffic management has no guidelines for taking care of accidents resulting from such technology.
As cities embrace new technologies, governments must fast-track the required policies. Likewise, for smart cities to thrive in Africa, the government must not be left behind in transformation and adopting innovative technologies. The government needs to be taken along on the journey and be structured to make quick decisions required to deploy required technologies in smart cities.
In the world of architecture, there have been advancements in 3D printed housing structures. However, generally in Africa, the building code in use for construction materials is outdated. With smart cities, the idea is to develop or construct a building within days, and legislation needs to allow for such technological developments. Policy needs to move in a direction where technologies such as printed buildings, buildings that are not brick and mortar, can be adapted to shorten construction timelines.
Therefore, legislation should be functional and speak to the entire smart cities’ value chain, from production to the smart cities’ operation.
Innovative funding models
Konza Technopolis is a greenfield project with an expected expenditure of almost $1 billion. By nature, innovative city projects need significant funding. The Kenyan government has proven that they cannot adapt and adopt critical infrastructure, so public-private partnerships (PPPs) are essential in Africa’s smart cities’ value chain.
The reality is that the money is in the private sector; it is in the international markets, and PPPs bring in needed expertise and resources that government does not have. However, African counterparts must ensure that they prioritise Africa and African solutions in entering these PPPs. These agreements must be entered on a partnership basis, not on a consumption basis, to co-create and co-contextualise the solutions to the African context.
Konza Technopolis has adopted a hybrid PPP model where the National Treasury in Kenya has issued the security for financing. Horizontal infrastructure will not depend on Konza’s income. The entire PPP process took a record two years to have the deal sealed and construction started, a significant win for the continent.
Labour in smart cities
Smart cities will use technology more than they will human capital. Some argue this will harm employment, which is not necessarily true. These cities might not require traditional labour in bulk; however, there will be a gap for a knowledge-based workforce. Start-ups will play a critical role in ensuring that the cities are creating employment opportunities.
One factor, connectivity, underpins all these considerations. Africa faces socio-economic issues that are unique to the continent. It is, therefore, a constant priority for solutions to be all-encompassing and not leave anyone behind. Equitable, affordable and reliable connectivity is paramount to the real adoption of smart cities and the technologies it provides. For a city to be indeed smart, connectivity needs to be the main priority.
Smart cities place burdensome coverage demands on networks. At the same time, service providers must invest wisely as people and businesses grow increasingly connected and look to IoT services.
Seamless and equitable connectivity will materialise benefits throughout communities of smart cities, such as increased operational efficiency for authorities, improved services, and quality of life for citizens.
To summarise, prioritise these six pillars for smart cities to thrive in Africa:
1. Smart mobility: ensuring that the infrastructure for this exists
2. Smart economy: ensuring that start-ups are part of the conversation and set-up of smart cities
3. Smart governance: changing how Africa deals with administration by prioritising e-government
4. Smart living: limit interactions in a pandemic and post-pandemic world
5. Smart people: bridging the knowledge gap in Africa
6. Smart environment: prioritising green energy
With a mass exodus to urban areas and the economic benefits that smart cities can provide, Konza Technopolis alone has an expected overall contribution to GDP of over 2%. Africa should not wait for the disruption and take the lead from other countries but instead start to have consistent engagement with necessary technologies, funding models, and policy to realise the opportunities that come with smart cities. ESI