Today smart cities are more of a reality than we think. We are living in a digitised world. Most people have a smartphone and can conduct their daily lives on this one device. This connectivity means that the public sector across the globe needs rethink how it operates and engages with its constituents.
However, smart cities are no small undertaking. It requires the right political leadership, an enabling regulatory environment, partnership with the private sector and most of all, funding. But some countries are starting to take the lead. I have been particularly impressed by Africa.
Interestingly, the common perception of Africa doesn’t tend to include sprawling urban metropolises; instead, a person typically visualises a past version that is an incomplete picture of Africa today. While the majority of Africans still live in rural areas, the continent is one of the most rapidly urbanising regions in the world.
By 2050, 2.5 billion more people will live in cities, and almost 90 per cent of those people will be from either Africa or Asia. Lagos, Cairo, and Kinshasa are three African cities have already grown beyond a population of 10 million and are formally considered megacities.
However, this does present African cities with the challenge of how to develop the right infrastructure to meet the demand of rapid urbanisation. I believe Africa has the right ingredients to become a leader in the implementation of smart cities.
Admittedly the development of smart cities in Africa is still in its infancy, but they have an advantage. While many cities in the developed world have to maintain outdated infrastructure, African cities can build updated services and facilities from the ground up. Smart cities aim to use new data-collecting technology and modernised infrastructure to provide safer and more efficient services for their citizens. This technology can take a variety of forms, many of which have already begun to be used.
Cape Town is an excellent example of such a solution. The South African city has partnered with network providers to acquire data from sensors placed around the city. This data helps the city run more effectively in several ways ranging from traffic monitoring to waste management, crime detection and fire response.
Some countries are taking another route toward smart cities by proposing satellite cities — new urban areas built in areas near pre-existing cities. Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria and other countries all have such projects in the works. Many of these satellite cities would provide thoroughly modern infrastructure and luxury amenities to attract tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
The benefit of smart cities is that municipalities, cities and even countries can make smart optimised decisions. Which ultimately saves money and improves the quality of services offered by a government. By leverage on technology and the use of a large amount of data, their citizens generate every second to optimise resources, to connect people and to improve business and trading. A smart city targets energy savings and adopts environmentally-friendly technologies, which helps in promoting sustainable development. All of this translates into an improved quality of life for residents.
The possibilities are undeniable, but there are challenges. One being funding, transforming a city into a smart is not cheap. Innovative Financing plays a critical role because it gives governments the freedom, flexibility and the financial sovereignty to implement its national priorities.
Daily billions of digital transactions are taking place in any given country. Applying a painless micro levy to these transactions will generate billions of new revenue streams. Innovative Finance is a solution that provides governments with a tool to create new sources of revenue that does not increase a countries debt level or require citizens to pay more tax.
As a former head of state, I believe that there is an urgent need for countries to adopt and embrace innovation and technology to bring about lasting development solutions.