According to the International Monetary Fund, Ghana is one of the world’s fastest growing economies driven by an emerging oil and gas industry, a growing base of consumers and significant foreign investment.
Accra is also one of
Africa’s fastest emerging cities - according to Mastercard’s African
Cities Growth Index, Accra is ranked Africa’s top city in terms of
economic potential over the next five years.
growth has also fueled a population explosion, with the city expanding
by over 1 million people - a 35 per cent increase - in the last decade.
The same trend can be observed in most of Ghana’s cities and across
Africa with the United Nations estimating that Africa’s urban population
will triple by 2050.
Ghana’s population is already mostly
urban, with over 50 per cent of the population living in cities.
Continued demographic growth is placing increasing strain on city
systems from transportation to water, sanitation, health, public safety
and energy. For example, there are already an estimated 10,000 vehicles
on the roads of Accra and traffic delays are an everyday reality for its
four million residents.
Traffic jams have a negative effect
across many other areas such as business, emergency response, the
environment, education and healthcare.
So what can be done to
address these challenges? The government of Ghana recently launched the
National Urban Policy Framework and Action Plan aimed at improving urban
infrastructure and raising revenue from Ghana’s cities to reduce
poverty and tackle urban challenges.
Smarter technologies can
help facilitate and accelerate the implementation of the action plan.
This week, IBM launched a study based on the opinions of experts from
the public and private sectors and civil society. Entitled ‘A Vision for
Smarter Growth: an IBM Smarter Cities Report on Accra, Ghana’ the
report highlights how Accra can leverage technology to transform its key
urban systems, especially in areas that are essential to Accra’s urban
future such as transportation, energy and city services.
example, the report highlights several areas where technology can help
in the area of revenue collection – a key focus area of the National
Urban Policy Framework and Action Plan.
In the future, mobile payment systems could help make the process of paying taxes easier for Accra’s residents. Hosting city services in the cloud will translate into more transparent and cost-effective municipal service delivery and an online platform for cataloguing property values could lead to a substantial increase in property tax revenues.
analytics could also help city authorities to more easily identify cases
of tax under payment or fraud. Implementing these types of initiatives
will help Accra raise the revenue required to make critical investments
in services that citizens care about such as healthcare and education
while enhancing the quality of service delivery.
The report also lists a number of areas where technology can help alleviate the strain on Accra’s road systems. Smart and networked traffic lights could help to ease the flow of vehicles through the city.
social media technologies could help city authorities monitor the road
network in real-time. By using Big Data technologies to analyse mobile
phone data, city officials could gain a clearer view on how people move
around within the city and how the existing transportation systems could
be enhanced. Systematically addressing Accra’s traffic issues will lead
to a city that is more livable and economically competitive.
can also help address energy challenges in Accra, which such as many
African cities, suffer from regular power outages. For example, smart
meters can help monitor and manage electricity distribution and smart
grids can help energy providers anticipate and isolate problems limiting
impact on lives and business. By building a smarter energy system,
Accra can help lay the groundwork for future investment and economic
IBM recognises that cities are all unique and
Accra’s challenges cannot be solved by simply implementing off-the-shelf
solutions. Cities must become smarter in their own ways, given their
level of development, culture and available resources. What is required
is dialogue with the people who understand Accra the best – the people
who live there.
In addition to working alongside leaders in
Accra, IBM is actively engaged in dialogue with cities across Africa to
help public and private sectors address urban challenges and
In 2012, an IBM team was deployed in Nairobi,
Kenya to advise on technology solutions to resolve Nairobi's traffic
challenges; while another team spent a month in the city of Tshwane,
South Africa developing a crowdsourcing solution to improve the city’s
water management system and enable citizens to report water leaks.
new Africa Research Lab is also developing pilot solutions to optimise
traffic management, public safety and government services.
Our experience in Africa and beyond has demonstrated that technology has the huge potential to transform leading cities like Accra. But technology alone is not a solution. To become a smarter city, Accra needs a combination of governance, technology, partnerships and education. The pieces of the puzzle are all available – achieving progress will be contingent on stakeholders demonstrating the will and leadership required to put them together.
Article by Joe Mensah
The writer is Country General Manager, IBM Ghana