In a couple of days, the Smart Cities Global Summit for Technology and Investment will take place in Algiers. The summit is expecting over 4000 attendees and over 200 speakers representing more than 30 different countries. But what’s all the fuss about?

As the term suggests, smart cities are urban areas that are able to adapt and respond to the needs and behaviours of their inhabitants. This ‘intelligence’ is generally achieved by gathering vast amounts of data, or information, about everything that goes on in the city —citizens, traffic, water supply networks, libraries, hospitals etc. This information can then be used to make the city more efficient on a number of different levels, and therefore a better place to live.


Imagine stepping out of your urban apartment to go to work. The sun hasn’t yet risen, but the sensors on the surrounding street lights detect you automatically and light the way to the nearest bus stop, where a driverless bus will soon pick you up.

This is a scene that for the most part remains in the imaginations of city planners, but those imaginations have still been captured by such ideas all around the world. Smart cities promise complete connectivity, sustainable development and the prioritisation of people and the way they want to live. With the help of technology and upgraded infrastructure, it seems as though there may be inexpensive solutions out there for some of urbanised Africa’s most pervasive problems —the housing deficit, limited access to services and often poor living conditions.


Smart cities are already under construction in several African countries. 60km outside Nairobi, the Kenyan government is building Konza Technological City, which is already being nicknamed “Silicon Savannah.” Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Rwanda also have plans for ambitious, technologically enhanced urban areas in the works.

The problem with these megacity projects is that they will probably not be affordable living areas for the majority of the population, and it is important to also consider how smaller-scale, localised upgrades to existing infrastructure could improve Africa’s rapidly expanding cities. Initiatives are being launched in a number of existing cities, including huge parking buildings that make use of lifts to solve parking space shortages, and the development of e-government services which allow citizens to complete many public processes online.

Smart city based innovations are clearly exciting for Africa as they can be deployed on large scales as well as smaller, localised ones. Going forward, it will be important to pour as many resources into smaller-scale solutions that will benefit larger portions of urban populations as into the larger, more glamorous projects.