By Evans Kidero
Next week, Nairobi will host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), attended by U.S. President Obama. This will be the first time that the GES takes places in sub-Saharan Africa bringing together emerging entrepreneurs and leaders from government, private companies and international organizations from across Africa and around the world.
This is a proud moment for Nairobi and for me as its first governor. This city, which started out as a railway depot more than a century ago, today accounts for nearly 50 percent of Kenya’s formal employment and generates more than half of the country’s GDP.
Nairobi is now recognized as a trailblazer in Africa for its efforts to modernize its economy and city services. Our thriving tech scene is seen as a leader on the continent, giving rise to Kenya’s “Silicon Savannah” moniker and the strong culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that we are becoming recognized for globally.
Nairobi is also one of Africa’s fastest growing cities. Since 1980, the population has increased by more than 300 percent to nearly three and a half million people today. The pull factor of economic opportunities, higher standards of living, regional connectivity and our thriving business scene mean multinational corporations and international organisations make Nairobi their regional hub.
This growth places enormous strain on the city’s transportation network, water supply, sewage and waste management. It also means that we have to change the way citizens interact with government services. For this reason, the government has put in place a masterplan for urban development to help optimize and transform these perennial problems.
Technology has a huge role to play in this plan. For example, a new digital system for applications and payments – implemented under my governorship – has already streamlined parking operations while raising additional revenue for City Hall. In Kibera, we recently introduced self-service kiosks to bring clean and affordable water to low-income households. This transformational work must continue. We want to ensure that we use the most innovative approaches for the good of the city and its people.
Commercial technology must be central to developing solutions to modern day urban challenges. Therefore it is a significant step forward that Nairobi is now home to Africa’s first commercial technology research laboratory. IBM chose Nairobi as the headquarters of its Africa research organisation, opened two years ago by the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta. Today it employs experts in science and technology from around the world. Crucially the solutions emerging from this lab must address the complex and diverse challenges presented by an expanding and developing city like Nairobi. The ability to leverage IBM’s research team and put some of the most advanced technologies to work to improve the lives of ordinary citizens is an opportunity we must not waste.
With the support of Executive Committee Member, Nairobi City County, Evans Ondieki, our city government is already working with IBM’s research scientists to bring genuine change to Nairobians’ lives. A fascinating new project is putting the city’s waste collection vehicles to task in a surprising way. In a pilot project, IBM’s researchers have equipped 10 of our waste collection vehicles with smart devices that gather and transmit data about the location, altitude, speed, acceleration, orientation and vibration levels of our trucks. Using the power of Safaricom’s mobile network, these “data collecting ants” are not only gathering waste, but also collecting key pieces of insight about the efficiency of the fleet and the condition of Nairobi’s streets.
Clearly, IBM’s Big Data analytics technologies are starting to paint an invaluable picture of our waste team’s efficiency. Not only that, we are beginning to understand the possible reasons for delays – such as potholes, speedbumps, traffic jams, flooded areas and detours. This puts us in a much better position to optimise waste collection in Nairobi. At the same time, we have a much better idea of where to focus our investments and resources to repair and improve the city’s streets.
We are thrilled with IBM’s approach and see great potential for expanding the initiative across the county’s other service vehicles. This continued partnership with IBM proves how public-private partnerships can offer tangible solutions to the increasingly difficult challenges faced by urban planners in the developing world. We look forward to working other leading companies in a multitude of sectors to investigate other areas of collaboration. We all want to make Nairobi a better, healthier and happier place to live. The potential for transformational change is without question. It is down to the drive and vision of politicians, scientists and the business community to deliver it. There is no reason why Nairobi cannot just set the trend for Africa, but for other cities around the world.