Imagine a city that can operate efficiently to improve service delivery for millions of lives. The kind of city where public transport is fully functional, where traffic lights work and traffic congestion is a thing of the past, where poverty is alleviated and jobs are created, where education and health facilities are performing optimally, where safety and security is no longer a concern, where emergency response is swift and disaster relief aid is accelerated. This is a smart city we all dream of.
Back in the 80s and 90s, we never thought this was possible in Africa, in our lifetime. But we were mistaken. The future is here, and smart cities are already taking shape across the globe. Africa is no different, and developing economies are finally being recognised on the global map. This is all thanks to the benefits of connectivity and intelligent technology. Improving and optimising functions of cities remains a top agenda item in most countries and Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, is well on its way to reaching this dream. But the rapid urbanisation taking place there means that this knowledge-based economy is now more crucial than ever before.
Research by the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC) found that in the last 20 to 30 years, Kigali had experienced a significant demographic and spatial growth driven by internal migration and natural population increases. Further analysis shows that Rwanda is urbanising at an unprecedent speed. To give you some insight, in 1978, Rwanda’s urban population stood at 4.6% and in 2012, it jumped to 16.5%. By 2024, it is estimated to be a staggering 35%. A population projection by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) shows that only 18.4% of Rwandans live in urban areas and half of country’s urban population reside in Kigali. This annual urban population growth rate far exceeds the worldwide average of 1.8% and Africa’s urban growth rate of 3.2%.
Meeting urbanisation needs and fast-tracking a smart city is therefore pivotal for Kigali. But creating this data-driven environment requires connectivity, infrastructure, access to digital technologies and investment. In line with this, the Rwandan government has invested and continues to push the ICT agenda and Liquid Intelligent Technologies – a business of Cassava Technologies – has already begun to carry out the leg work in Kigali.
Just like its project in Nairobi, Liquid has so far installed city-wide fibre that connects all major buildings, office parks and communication towers. Connectivity is now more accessible and reach has been extended to innovation hubs, businesses, educational institutions, and public sector organisations. This project has resulted in free Wi-Fi being enabled in public areas like the Kigali International Airport, car freezone areas and the city’s gardens. In addition, business and technical skills development has been prioritised for start-up companies.
The thought of a smart city in Kigali aligns to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 where connectivity has now been prioritised following COVID-19. In June 2022, the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) agreed to address the global connectivity gap in which 2.9 billion people worldwide still lack an internet connection. The conference adopted the Kigali Action Plan charting a course for digital development that aligns to the SDG goals where they agreed to apply greater focus on the practical implementation of connectivity.
Given this remarkable commitment by world leaders, it looks like Kigali’s hopes for a smart city is more than likely in our lifetime – a dream that is materialising before our eyes and it’s incredible to witness. Welcome to Africa’s future, we have made it.
The writer is CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies Rwanda