In Africa, several smart cities are under development while others are in the planning stages. We have documented this progress on ICT Africa in the past. What is baffling is that while new cities are being built in the outskirts of existing cities or in totally new areas, there doesn't seem to be much initiative to convert current cities into smart cities.
The landscape in major African capitals has changed remarkably over the last decade. The skylines that were dominated by old colonial buildings in the business districts have been taken over by modern skyscrapers. The immediate outskirts of central business districts have also seen an inundation of high rise buildings, mostly in response to demand for office space outside the business district but within the city boundaries to deal with traffic and human congestion. In many cities such as Nairobi, Kampala and Lusaka, areas outside the business district once dominated by colonial bungalows and housing estates put up in the 1950s and 60s are now dotted with high rise developments.
The problem is that commercial developments are not following the smart concept. This is a common shortcoming in all major cities across Africa from Cairo to the Cape and a serious failure by those charged with urban planning.
In a recent article, we provided the definition of a smart city as, "one that is efficiently designed to catalyze economic growth, competitiveness, prosperity and a better way life for its citizens." A smart city should be able to fuel sustainable economic growth and provide its citizens with a high quality of life. This is achieved through targeted investments in human and social capital, traditional transport and ICT infrastructure. Citizens should also have a say in the management of natural resources through participation and engagement. Several studies into smart cities concur that for a city to offer sustainable living, they must have the following smart ingredients in their planning: people and attitude, environment, economy, governance and mobility of people and goods. Few existing cities in Africa take this into consideration when approving new commercial developments.
The irony, though, is that all this has and is being considered in the case of new smart cities such as the Ghana Cyber city, Konza Techno City in Kenya and Eco Atlantic City in Nigeria. So, one cannot say that city planners do not have the know-how or that planners are mediocre. If they can properly plan new smart cities, they clearly have the tools and intellectual capacity to analyze data, anticipate problems and resolve them in a timely manner for existing cities.
So, where is the problem? It comes down to endemic corruption, a problem that continues to bedevil Africa and a habit most societies just can't seem to kick. Development agenda is driven by money as development approvals are dished out to those who bribe and offer the best kickbacks.
Most cities need re-planning on the smart concept. This cannot be achieved until corruption is completely rooted out of society. Unfortunately, as with most things this side of the world, it is easier said than done.