The world last month celebrated the World Cities Day, a day designated by the United Nations to highlight the important role of urbanisation as a source of global development and social inclusion.
During the global observation of this year’s World Cities Day in China, government officials, city managers, researchers and citizens indicated that ‘smart cities’ can be key tools toward achieving urban development goals.
Governments are already using technologies that include wireless networks, big data and analytics, mobile applications, web portals, social media, sensors and tracking products to manage cities.
All this is being done to enhance the quality of life for citizens, improving public services and natural resources.
Today, the majority of the world’s population resides in the city and the proportion continues to grow over time. Building smart cities is, therefore, increasingly becoming more important, according to experts.
The United Nations World Cities Report published last year noted a global trend in which cities have become central to the transformation of the global economy, highlighting that urbanisation had dramatically changed energy consumption patterns, water and sanitation needs, food security and mobility of human beings.
This change is resulting into unprecedented challenges that result in informal settlement patterns, economic inequality, high youth unemployment and environmental degradation, among others.
In response to these challenges, African leaders recently came together and made bold steps that resulted into the launch of ‘Smart Cities Blueprint,’ a guide for the leaders to map implementation and how to manage and control smart cities.
According to Didier Nkurikiyimfura, the head of technology and innovation at the Smart Africa Secretariat in Kigali, already a lot of work is being done to advance the implementation of the master plan.
He said a comprehensive index project and feasibility study had been conducted, over 80 projects had been mapped out, and that countries would choose depending on their priorities.
“We wanted to go down to the specific projects as the blueprint was a bit high level. This is why we came up with specific projects. All countries have different priorities and so they will choose to implement depending on their interests,” Nkurikiyimfura told The New Times.
“We want to work with private investors to drive the implementation.”
While some private investors have committed to invest in African countries to develop smart cities, Nkurikiyimfura noted that there are more private sector players who want to put in their money to help African cities.
Some of the proposed projects include establishing smart monitoring systems, smart energy grid, solar powered roads, smart city platform for command and control of city flows and services, just to name a few.
The Smart Cities Blueprint was developed in conjunction with the Rwandan Smart City Masterplan which offers a localised example of how African countries can make their cities smart, sustainable and resilient.
Walking the talk
So far, Rwanda is on the right path of the implementation with more activities in the pipeline. Different private investors have expressed interest in directing funds towards the implementation of different projects.
In fact, there were financing agreements signed by a couple of companies to make more investments to drive the implementation.
One of them is the United Arab Emirates based firm, Cheikh Rakadh Group, which has committed to invest $50 million (about Rwf42 billion) under the recently launched Rwanda Smart City Master Plan.
The agreement was signed during this year’s Transform Africa Summit held in May in Kigali with the main aim to finance the implementation.
Already, Ngali Holdings, a local firm implementing the master plan, revealed that they are closing discussions regarding the identification of viable projects, business models and costing of the selected projects.
“We are closing discussions with the technical and the financial partners, especially on the financing and the areas of investment,” noted Ivan Twagirashema, the company’s chief executive officer, without revealing much about the ongoing work.
On the other hand, Inmarsat, a global mobile satellite communications service company, started the implementation of activities following an agreement signed months ago with the Government.
According to Emmanuel Dusenge, Inmarsat’s Programme Manager in Rwanda, the company started with a city-wide deployment of LoRaWAN (a form of LPWAN or Low Power Wide Area Network).
He said the infrastructure will be a connectivity platform for a variety of Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
“Five LoRaWAN gateways have been installed in major areas in Nyarugenge, Kicukiro, Kacyiru and Prime Economic Zone, which provides significant network coverage to Kigali city. This will also provide opportunities to connect different kinds of sensors that generate data for decision support,” he said.
Dusenge said the established LoRaWAN network infrastructure will mainly facilitate capacity-building and foster improved education, innovation and job creation, and that the infrastructure has been made available to some of the educational institutes to facilitate students to experience, develop IoT prototypes, and carry out academic research in the field of potential IoT solutions.
Among other projects aimed at driving smart cities agenda, Inmarsat, in partnership with the City of Kigali, is also carrying out street lighting, an initiative aimed at integrating IoT technologies to help the city monitor and control street lights as well as reduce energy consumption and maintenance.
IoT is one of the emerging technology fields, which refers to the connection of devices (other than typical fare such as computers and smartphones) to internet. Cars, kitchen appliances, and even heart monitors can all be connected through the IoT.
Air metering (a smarter metering solution to reduce water leakage in the network and revenue losses), as well as air quality monitoring, are other IoT technology projects that are being pursued in Rwanda to advance the smart cities agenda.