Africa is one of the last places on earth to urbanize, but it’s a development that’s finally happening. Some optimists are convinced that Africa’s cities are the new frontier: sustained population growth will drive economic development, with Africa supplanting China as the world’s manufacturing powerhouse.
Much of Africa’s urban growth has taken place quietly over the past few decades, far from global media headlines. When it comes to the proliferation of cities – especially megacities with populations of 10 million or more – the conversation has been dominated by Asia.
After all, there are just three megacities in Africa – Cairo with 9.5 million residents, Kinshasa with 9.4 million and Lagos which has a 21 million population – with a few more expected to join their ranks in the coming decade.
The Rise of Smart Cities in Africa
Different cities and countries use the concept of smart cities as possible solutions for a wide range of problems. These include mobility, continued growth, congestion, pollution, energy production and distribution, health services, connectivity and sustainability. Everywhere in the world, plans for smart cities are being prepared, with Toronto, Canada heading the move.
For African countries, a smart city solves several problems and presents a wide range of opportunities. By using technology and creating new cities from the ground up, these smart cities would help decongest crowded mega-cities, provide employment, develop new technologies, and help leapfrog the country’s economy.
Mega Cities as Solutions
A mega-city is an urban area with more than 10 million inhabitants. Currently, there are 29 mega-cities in the world with two of them located in Africa. By 2030, there will be six African megacities.
The pressures of urbanization will be greatest in Africa. In 2010, only 36% of all Africans lived in cities and this will increase to 50% by 2030. African cities need to undergo a transformation because the areas were not meant to handle such large populations. For example, Nairobi, Kenya, with three million people, was originally designed for 350,000 inhabitants only. Expected to become megacities soon are Accra, Johannesburg-Pretoria, Khartoum and Nairobi.
Creating a smart city near a major urban center is the best solution. It will help decongest the area, attracting industries and companies to locate outside of the megacity at the same time. It would then attract new talent to work there, and away from the established companies in the major cities.
Technology has shown to enable countries to jump development stages and join the digital revolution. The digital divide exists because these countries do not have the infrastructure and technology to compete with the world’s leading countries. With the use of technology, and partnership with multinational companies, these countries can leapfrog, skip several stages of development, and be competitive on the world stage. Foreign capital and investments in digital ventures fuel smart cities.
For smart cities in Africa to become a reality, it will need not only funding, but also commitment and continuity. A lot of the smart city initiatives depend on the infrastructure. Unfortunately, some of the planned developments have not yet taken off. An example is Ghana’s Hope City ICT park located outside Accra, which has yet to start four years after its announcement. Expected to be completed in 2030, Konza City in Kenya, has already collected a number of tech companies. Another problem that will need to be addressed is the fact that 60% of Africa’s urban residents live in slum areas. Affordable urban housing options need to be developed and turned over to the masses in order for people to stop being “informal settlers” in various areas in the metropolis.
Smart cities are bold initiatives meant to develop, improve, and enhance existing programs and infrastructure in areas all over the world. Planning is key, and issues of various sectors must be considered and factored in to make sure that nothing and no one is left behind.
With development coming to Africa, this may be the new dawn that people have been looking forward to for decades.