Frost & Sullivan’s Consultant, Sisonke Mgwebi, gives insight into Africa spending money on existing cities instead of building new cities.
In November 2022, the global population reached 8 billion, with Africa’s population comprising one-fifth of that total. By 2050, this will increase to 25%, with one out of every four people being African. Small, medium and large cities across the continent are experiencing increasing strain as people are moving into urban areas in droves, with a 44% urbanisation rate in 20211. Ageing infrastructure, food security, and adequate service delivery are a handful of issues these cities face.
In response, officials and various city stakeholders propose constructing new Smart Cities as the solution to leave old towns behind. Africa has a long history of announcing smart cities, but high upfront infrastructure costs and socio-environmental complexities are why the continent has built only a few of these developments.
People are not waiting for new cities, hence, implementing smart city initiatives in existing towns and cities is a more reasonable strategy to keep up with the growing urban population.
RELATED: Aladekomo makes case for smart cities as Nigeria’s urban population is put at 275m by 2050
Since 2000, the number of residents in urban areas has steadily grown as cities attract people looking to improve their access to education, healthcare, and jobs amongst other amenities and opportunities.
By 2050, cities across Africa will house an additional 950 million people2 but the existing infrastructure is struggling to support this growth. City officials suggest we start afresh in Smart Cities that use digital and ICT-based innovation to generate new economic opportunities and improve the efficiency of service delivery within cities. In response,
Africa had an ambitious first wave of Smart Cities announced before the 2008/09 global economic bust. From Konza Tech in Kenya, Eco Atlantic in Nigeria, Cité du Fleuve on an island in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Kigamboni in Tanzania.
More recent announcements include Lanseria’s Smart City in South Africa, Akon City in Senegal, and Elon Musk’s plans to build a US$20 billion smart city in Botswana called Neo Gardens. The slow pace of development and high costs for new cities has left many of these developments dead in the water. The Cape Coast Green City project in Ghana is an example of an ongoing development that has seen some praise.
However, Modderfontein New City in South Africa3 is an example of an innovative master plan reduced to a desolate development with pockets of suburbia. A pipeline of Smart City developments exists, but most projects fail due to financial, environmental, and social complexities. African countries should instead use digital technologies to solve issues in existing cities.
Cities can leverage low-tech solutions such as USSD technology or simple mobile apps to improve access to at-home healthcare, education, and inclusion into community safety groups or financial services, such as mobile money.
Cities can use advanced Fourth Industrial Revolution (4iR) technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to improve well-being by analysing big data to sustain biodiversity and improve natural disaster predictions, whilst creating robust food, water, and waste management systems.
The same 4iR technologies can defend against growing data sensitivity threats posed by rapid urbanisation and a lack of cyber security awareness.
It is callous to talk about advanced technologies, mobile devices, and sensors without considering the power issues across Africa. Many areas would struggle to charge such devices consistently, hence policies to encourage investments in renewable energy and smart grids are critical in helping the existing cities use digital technologies and reap the benefits of smarter cities.
1 The African Development Bank Group (AfDB), Frost & Sullivan
2 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Frost & Sullivan
3 Megaprojects article: Modderfontein New City: The Failed ‘New York’ of South Africa
COVER PICTURE: ESI Africa