By Marie-Anne (Kui) Kinyanjui
IBM external relations, Kenya
What seems like a random question was actually a something that was being asked this week by leaders from government and business that attended the Smarter Cities Roundtable in Nairobi this week. Stakeholders from the Kenyan government, private sector and civil society gathered to identify Nairobi’s most significant challenges in order to frame discussion on technology could ease the city’s transitional growth.
In the next 20 years, Nairobi’s population – already the largest on the East coast of Africa – is set to exceed that of these three mega cities in coming years. The Kenyan capital’s population will balloon by 65 per cent over the next decade to stand at between 8-10 million, presenting a unique challenge to a city that is already struggling under to accommodate the needs of its residents. The main challenges are transportation, utilities, safety and security and urban planning.
So as leaders from government and business look for best practice from other cities for how have tackled their urban challenges, the examples of Rio, London and Singapore are actually more relevant than we might have suspected.
A simple drive through Nairobi today will expose you to some of the issues at hand. The IBM Commuter Pain study has already flagged Nairobi as the fourth most painful commute in the world, with some residents reporting traffic jams lasting as long as 90 minutes to cover just five miles. The pollution from the clogged and congested traffic as well as the condition of the roads and sidewalks makes walking or cycling almost inconceivable.
As Christian Schlosser, Chief of the UN-Habitat’s Urban Transport Section put it “there are basically too many cars on roads designed for ten times less traffic.”
And with a lack of investment in public transport systems, 75 percent of vehicles in Nairobi travel passengerless.
The parking situation in Nairobi is no better. IBM’s first parking survey released recently showed that drivers in Nairobi take an average of 31.7 minutes to find a parking spot against a global average of 19.8 minutes.
Energy management is also a problem today in Nairobi – energy fluctuations are common, with Nairobi experiencing 11,000 blackouts every month. Inefficient utility systems also lead to higher energy prices which impair economic development.
Security remains a constant worry for Nairobi’s residents in a city where 9 out of 10 calls to state emergency services go unanswered and residents are increasingly turning to private security and ambulance providers when they are in trouble.
The roundtable discussion this week provoked a pivotal discussion on how to get both public and private sector to pull together to meet a joint objective of transforming Nairobi into a Smarter City. For example, it emerged during the discussion that both public and private sectors are currently building emergency control rooms in Nairobi in separate, uncoordinated projects.
In a country known for its quick and transformative adoption of modern technologies to its own unique needs, the roundtable was quick to latch onto the low hanging fruits.
Tony Mwai, IBM’s Country Manager who hosted the event, gave a concrete example of how technology could provide an innovative solution to some of Nairobi’s congestion problems. With over 70 per cent of the population already on mobile networks, the density of mobile signals could be used to indicate where congestion is heaviest.
Another area of interest in the discussion was how social media could help to strengthen the relationship between government departments, citizens, private sector companies and civil society organizations.
The round table session was moderated by noted financial analyst Aly-Khan Satchu and was attended by high level policy makers and CEOs from a number of sectors including: Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary for Information; Eddy Njoroge, Managing Director, KENGEN; Wolfgang Fengler, Chief Economist, World Bank; Steven Oundo, Architectural Society of Kenya; Christian Schlosser, Chief of Urban Transport Section, UN-Habitat, Lucas Ndolo, KK Security and local entrepreneur Esther Passaris.
The final outcomes from the roundtable discussion will be shared with the wider public in a white paper and video film later this year.
Here’s a minidocumentary about how IBM’s Corporate Service Corps has helped Kenyan government leaders transform government services.