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Tech-Led Progress Needed in Kenya: Report

IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced the launch of a report entitled ” A Vision of a Smarter City: How Nairobi Can Lead the Way into a Prosperous and Sustainable Future that highlights transportation, energy and public safety as three critical areas to address in line with the growth of Nairobi’s more economically empowered and mobile younger generation.

The first of its kind to be produced in Africa, the report draws on the views of leaders and experts from the public and private sectors, World Bank, UN-HABITAT and civil society organizations, says IBM. It was announced Wednesday, March 7.

The report outlines how Nairobi should turn to the latest technologies and global best practices to transform itself into a smarter and more efficient city as it strives to cope with an expanding population and become a major African business hub.

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“With increased urbanization and substantial economic opportunities, major African cities like Nairobi are coming under more pressure than ever to transform,” said Tony Mwai, country general manager, IBM East Africa.

“For Nairobi to reach its full potential as a regional powerhouse, new technologies and approaches are required to modernize the city’s systems and to make it a better place to live, work and do business.”

Currently home to just over three million inhabitants, Nairobi’s population is expected to soar to over five million by 2020 as migration to urban areas continues.

“Kenya is undergoing a simultaneous demographic and geographic transition,” explains Wolfgang Fengler, the World Bank’s lead economist in Kenya. “Today it is a rural country but by 2033, it will be an urban country with Nairobi receiving the greatest influx of new citizens.”

According to IBM’s Commuter Pain Survey, Nairobi citizens have the fourth most painful commute in the world. City officials estimate that traffic jams cost the economy over Sh50 million ($600,000) per day in lost productivity, fuel consumption and pollution.

City authorities are currently investing to improve Nairobi’s roads and basic infrastructure. However, the report highlights that investment in the city’s road network should not be the only strategy for addressing traffic congestion.

“Nairobi needs new transport alternatives urgently. It is increasingly obvious that Nairobi must move beyond the traditional model of just building roads to solve traffic problems. It needs a combination of physical infrastructure, new ways of thinking and new technologies,” said Andre Dzikus, Urban Mobility Unit, UN-HABITAT.

The IBM report lists a number of possible technological solutions to consider, including systems to better automate and improve traffic flow, micro chips embedded in driving licenses to record a driver’s road history, priced road usage schemes and using mobile phone signal density to pinpoint and predict traffic jams.

“By working together with the private sector, the government can create cities that meet the needs of their citizens more efficiently,” said Bitange Ndemo, Information Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information.

The IBM report also underlines Kenya’s advantage in technology innovation as a way to address some of the challenges of urbanization. Cloud computing, mobile technologies and social media could all play a role, it says.

In the picture above: Tony Mwai, CGM IBM East Africa (left) and Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary, Kenyan Ministry of Information at the launch of the Nairobi Smarter Cities report.

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