Rwanda: Five Key Elements for Smart Cities Amid Population Growth

7 September 2023

Rwanda's development ambitions call for more investment in smart city solutions to design a place fit to accommodate the growing population.

While Kigali City was ranked Africa's premier smart city, its population is projected to be more than three million by 2030, an increase from 1.7 million currently, according to the fifth Rwanda Population and Housing Census published in February.

ALSO READ: CoK urges investors to implement smart city solutions as population grows

At the inaugural Smart City Investment Summit in Kigali under the theme "Leadership for Smart Cities," which brought together more than 1,000 participants, experts pointed out different factors needed to build a smart city.

Connectivity and innovation

Angela Wamola, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), said: "In the context of smart cities, there's a growing number of underserved citizens without connectivity due to a lack of devices. The need for proactive infrastructure planning is crucial to attract investments. Additionally, addressing both supply and demand-side challenges, especially financing for devices, is essential."

Alice Rwema, General Counsel at Ampersand Motor, said: "We're not progressing as fast as needed."

To accelerate, she pointed at the need for rapid innovation, bolstered human capacity, and robust financing.

ALSO READ: Connectivity Critical to Transforming Kigali into a Smart City

"How can we secure funding, expedite progress, and develop the necessary human resources to achieve our goals?" is the question she submitted to the stakeholders' dialogue.

Rafi Rich, Executive Director of Jerusalem Center for Urban Innovation, stressed the critical role of data in development and noted the lack of tech solutions in underserved areas. He proposed creating digital hubs in every community and emphasised that trust is as vital as software in data collection.

Cybersecurity education

Emmanuel Ndashimye, an Assistant Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University Africa, emphasised the importance of cybersecurity education in smart cities, pointing out that while smart cities offer numerous advantages, they also introduce vulnerabilities.

He stressed the need for cybersecurity education to start from a young age, ensuring that people of all generations understand the significance of data security.

Affordable homes

Alex Ndibwami, an architecture lecturer at the University of Rwanda, emphasised the need to have inclusive planning for smart cities by thinking beyond individual households to the neighbourhood level when designing solutions, to benefit the wider community.

Demola Aladekomo, Chairman of SmartCity Resorts PLC, recommended planning for accessible, affordable smart housing and infrastructure for all income levels, whereby high-income earners contribute to support those with limited means. According to him, solutions should provide good rooms, convenience, entertainment, education, and security within easy reach.

Environmental sustainability

African governments and private stakeholders should play a crucial role in driving smart cities with a focus on renewable energies, said Arthur Germond, Country Director of AFD France. He called for comprehensive stakeholder collaboration to grasp the significance and take necessary actions towards a sustainable future, referring to Rwanda as a pioneering nation in climate action and renewable energy adoption.

On the other hand, Vincent Depaul Kabarisa, CEO of Pro Nature Rwanda, said that challenges associated with managing essential water resources in smart cities, including wastewater management, domestic water supply, rural stormwater, and flooding increase as urbanisation grows.

Kabarisa proposed that flooding can be addressed by optimizing stormwater management through rainwater harvesting, improved filtration, and the integration of natural solutions for more efficient resource utilisation.

Population growth vs technology

Arsene Simbi, Team Lead of the Smarttec Division at Salvi Rwanda, emphasised the need for efficient technology in smart cities due to population growth. He discussed the risks posed by the increasing number of connected devices and stressed the importance of standardised security measures and collaboration with regulators.

Additionally, Simbi highlighted the significance of data protection and proposed local storage solutions and educational initiatives to enhance security awareness.

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