Nairobi is taking an early lead in hoping to become one of the first in Africa to become a “smart city”.

Leaders from across public and private sector and civil society organisations gathered in Nairobi on Friday to discuss how advanced technologies can help the city to deal with some of the most pressing issues of urbanisation – such as traffic congestion, parking, emergency response and the reliability of energy and water supplies.

The Nairobi Smarter Cities Roundtable, organised by IBM, was one of the first gatherings of its kind in Africa. Discussions focused on how private and public sectors can work together to lay the foundations for transforming Nairobi into a smarter and more efficient city.

As Nairobi continues to attract new inhabitants and investors alike, it is set to see its population double over the next decade bringing with it a wide range of challenges in key areas such as transportation, utilities, safety and security and urban planning.

By 2030, 48% of Kenyans are expected to reside in urban areas, according to the World Bank, which also predicts that, by 2020, Nairobi’s population is set to increase by over 65%.

The IBM Commuter Pain Survey shows that 61% of Nairobi commuters believe traffic negatively affects their work, family and health, while the Ministry of Planning, Kenya Economic Survey, indicates that traffic congestion currently costs Nairobi city residents Kshs 50-million a day.

In addition, nine out of 10 calls to emergency services in Nairobi go unanswered, according to KK Security, which also found that there are 18 carjackings in Nairobi every week, most are never solved.

Every month, Nairobi suffers from 11 000 high voltage fluctuations and power outages, according to figures from Kengen.

“With half of Kenyans set to be living in cities by 2030, the single biggest challenge facing Kenyan cities is how to manage and harmonize our city systems,” says Dr Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary for the Ministry for Information & Communication. “Better functioning cities not only help to increase the standard of living for their citizens, but also increase their global competitiveness and support economic development.”

According to Dr Ndemo, while there are a number of innovative smarter city initiatives in Kenya at the moment like Konza and Tatu cities, the single largest urban challenge facing Kenya is Nairobi. “Addressing these challenges now is vital to supporting Nairobi’s development as an important African economic and business hub,” he says.

“A city is basically a system of systems, and can benefit from the latest technologies and processes from other areas such as manufacturing, supply chain management and the service industries to ensure that things function and flow as they should do,” says Anthony Mwai, IBM country GM for East Africa. “IBM has more than 2 000 smarter city projects from the past two years to draw on and is keen to bring that experience to bear in Nairobi.”

As an example, Mwai says IBM is having early discussions with telecommunications companies in Nairobi about how mobile phone signal density could be used to pinpoint and predict traffic jams in the city and assist city authorities in re-directing traffic.