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The Rise of Smart Cities in West Africa

Posted on 29 November 2017

The Rise of Smart Cities in West Africa

In a bid to leapfrog the traditional steps to development a number of West African economies are developing ‘Smart City’ solutions in major urban areas. One such solution, the establishment of new satellite cities, is yielding mixed results in the region.

Last month workers broke ground on the $300 million Imperial International Business City (IIBC), a mixed-use development being built on reclaimed land on Lagos’ Lekki Penninsula. The joint-venture between Nigeria’s Channeldrill Resources Limited and the Elegushi Royal Family is vying to be the first official ‘smart city’ in sub-Saharan Africa upon its scheduled completion in 2021.

Characterised by digitally-enhanced service delivery and big data-backed initiatives, its ‘smart’ features will include an ‘intelligent’ traffic light network whereby sensors measure real-time volumes in traffic and adapt the timing and duration of traffic lights to ease congestion. IIBC’s public security network will also leverage cloud-connected security cameras and a full fibre optic cabling connecting all private and public domains.

The IIBC isn’t the only development in the works. Eko Atlantic, a $6 billion project which broke ground in 2013, is midway through completion and promises much of the same advantages. A private venture spearheaded by local firm South Energyx Nigeria Limited, is being developed with support from the Lagos State and Federal government with financial backing from FCMB, First Bank, Access Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, BNP Paribas Fortis and KBC. Situated on Victoria Island, it is pencilled for completion in 2022.

Smart City Lagos, another development borne of an MOU signed between the Lagos Government and Dubai’s Smart City LLC, is also on the cards along Lagos’ Ibeju-Lekki axis.

While Nigeria is not alone in the region, its neighbours have struggled to get similar projects off the ground. In 2010 Côte d’Ivoire revealed blueprints for Akwaba City, a large-scale development north of Abidjan awarded to local developer Sophia SA and the City Council of Anyama. Once complete by 2021, Akwaba should boast a primarily renewable energy mix, water-based transport to alleviate road congestion, and a variety of other ‘smart solutions’. Seven years on, however, there is little sign of when work will actually begin on the project.

In Ghana’s capital Accra there is a similar narrative surrounding Hope City, a $10 billion driven by local firm RLG Communications. More than four years since it was first pronounced to revolutionise the local tech ecosystem, nothing has materialised.

It is worth noting that while satellite cities have mixed success, cities such as Lagos, Accra and Abidjan are forging on with their own smart city agendas. In May the Lagos government began rolling out free WiFi in public spaces and last month put into action ‘Code Lagos’, a two year plan to train 1,000,000 Lagosians in programming across 300 new coding centres. In October last year Accra’s $95 million Aayalolo project put 85 WiFi-equipped buses on the streets. Announcements last month also indicate the city may soon come clean on its 2012 promise to establish an intelligent traffic network.

Countries such as these are well-positioned to take advantage of the benefits of smart cities, with GSMA putting mobile penetration on par with countries like South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius. The public and private sector are also taking increasing stock of the advantages of innovation through ‘technopoles’ (i.e. tech hubs) with of which 23 are Nigerian, sixteen are Ghanaian and five are Ivorian. Nonetheless challenges persist across these markets. Intermittent power supply poses a risk to infrastructure relying on ICT, while a limited pool of ready capital (especially from local banks) limits the scope for many proposals to get off the ground. There is also a question of education – will West African states be able to produce enough skilled labour to support operation, expansion and innovation in smart cities?

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