Uganda: Turning Kampala Into a Smart City

An aerial view of Arua Town (file photo)

Kampala is set to become Uganda's first smart city. By smart city, it is expected to be an innovative city that uses information communication technology (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operations, services and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects. That is its definition, according to the United Nations. An idea adopted from Europe, Kampala, joins a number of other cities around the world that aim at using ICT to improve public services.

With the project cost estimated at $15m (Shs56.5b), Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is pioneering the smart city agenda in Uganda.

The ICT Head at KCCA, Mr Martin Ssekajja, says the early implementation of the project focused on institutional strengthening, network extension and capacity enhancement to all offices, traffic signals, key hospitals and automation of payments to facilitate revenue growth.

It also involved making the best out of social media, targeting approximately 150,000 followers to encourage citizen participation.

"Geo-digitalistion of city properties is 90 per cent complete with the new system issuing all properties, asset values and house numbers to facilitate city navigation. This is supported with street and road naming. This exercise will boost electronic commerce and create room for many relevant mobile applications. The smart permit (online submission of the development plans) and the electronic faecal sludge management (pit emptying) are scheduled for completion in 2019," Mr Ssekajja explains developments.

Smart city

The next phase of the smart city project is slated to include installation of the traffic control centre covering 69 junctions. The city is also expected to have smart mobility and so public transport will be scheduled as well as parking to minimise congestion. Collection of solid waste will be automated, free Wi-Fi hotspots will be availed and street lights managed better.

Agencies such as National Information Technology Authority for internet services, Uganda Revenue Authority for payment services, Uganda Police Force for a safe city, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban development on the Land Information System, Ministry of Works and Transport on transport mobility, National Water and Umeme for utility services, Uganda Registration Services Bureau for company registration, Uganda Investment Authority for investor registration, Uganda Communications Commission for shared communication infrastructure services are involved in the project.

The council reveals it is also sharing data with private ICT agencies to not only deliver services but also empower youthful innovators.

A data set launched by United Nations in May 2018 indicates 55 per cent of the world's population lives in urban areas. This number is expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050. The report predicted that urbanisation combined with the overall growth of the world's population could swell by another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050, with close to 90 per cent of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa.

To Technology Associates chairman Mr Ginisch Nair, who is involved in implementing the project, Kampala is a perfect candidate for the smart city status given population growth. The city has 1.5m people, according to the 2014 population census. Mr Nair provides examples of how this kind of project helps city dwellers.

"It helps identify property, its attributes, store them in a digital format to allow the city manage them or compute the right taxes it must earn from them. The other is that the manual process involved in submitting architectural plans to the City Authority to allow development involves delays. But with this system, the submission of the plans happen online and allow multiple stakeholders of the Council to provide input fast and ensure adherence to standards," Mr Nair explains.

A boost in participation of the council's clients is expected. If one applies for a permit, they will be able to get an SMS or email and at every stage, get a notification on where there application is or how soon they can get. Even in the era of e-commerce, the smart city comes in handy.

"It allows citizens to have the convenience of ensuring that goods are dropped affordably at the right place in time so the Jumias of this world use it. The property address and numbering systems facilitate new businesses to perform well," Mr Nair says.

According to Mr Ssekajja, for a city to be smart, it requires necessary infrastructure such as physical network coverage, a data center, open data exchange, a regulatory framework and subject matter experts including academia and innovation hubs.

Government through the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance has laid the National backbone infrastructure, with the fourth phase of this project launched in Koboko District more than a week ago. The private sector through the telecom industry has also enhanced the mobile network coverage as the foundation to support both e-Government and smart services. In addition, government has invested in data centre infrastructure to centrally manage data.

Mr Nair calls this a fundamental platform for any city to be smart as he explains the progress.

"We signed the contract last July, drew up the final systems requirement specifications in August, delivered the system in January 2019 and did three rounds of user acceptance tests. Currently, a team from KCCA is undergoing training which should end mid May so users can be capable of using and customising the system," Mr Nair says.

Challenges

On the surface, the project in on track but Mr Ssekajja admits it is dealing with some challenges pertaining customisation of smart infrastructure, a skills gaps, lack of early adoption, inadequate finances, application of a suitable governance model and inclusivity of all stake holders.

Attention is now turning to implementation based on citizen needs, available resources and interested stakeholders that can support the different smart city programmes.

Whereas in its roles, the Council will start issuing smart permits, name your roads, manage your street lights, it says the city residents have a role to play too.

"There is demand for this smart city as people have no time to leave businesses to cue up to pay taxes. So it is my role to provide this infrastructure because it creates efficiency and saves time. We are providing these services but it does not make sense for you to vandalise these installations like now when we are putting up traffic signals instead of roundabouts. So you have a duty to protect this infrastructure," Mr Peter Kaujju, head public and corporate affairs, KCCA says.

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