Cisco believes Africa's first "smart city" could be in Rwanda. Cisco executive chairman, John Chambers, told ITWeb on the side-lines of the Internet of Things World Forum (IoTWF) in Dubai, that he is very bullish on the growth potential for The Internet of Things (IOT) in Africa.
"If you look at Rwanda, what president Paul Kagame is doing there is amazing, he really gets it," according to Chambers.
Cisco's VP for Africa, David Meads, agrees that Rwanda's president is one of the leaders that "gets it" and says Rwanda's capital is already working on IOT services like a connected airport, connected hotels, stadiums and conference centres.
"As we speak there are projects happening in Kigali which form the basis of that city becoming a smart city," says Meads.
"I think in the next couple of years you will start seeing a number of smart cities, perhaps the smaller cities in the first instance, but we will definitely see acceleration of IOT in Africa. Kigali might be one example but I think there will be half a dozen examples of African cities connected by IOT in the coming years."
He wouldn't confirm where Cisco is engaging with city leadership in Africa but says Johannesburg "has a real chance" of being one of the first smart cities on the continent. Also on his list of cities that could soon move towards digitisation and smart innovation are Gabarone, Nairobi, Maputo and Cairo.
"Does it mean every service will be fully digitised? No, but you will start to see a smart city where you have the infrastructure for IOT and have started to build the vertical services needed."
"Africa offers a tremendous opportunity, but I do not see any of the African countries moving with the speed that they need to," according to Chambers.
He says Cisco is speaking to most of Africa's government leaders about moving IOT and digitisation forward in their countries and he plans to meet with South Africa's leadership in the first quarter of 2016.
Meads agrees that Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to IOT but predicts that "IOT will accelerate a lot more in Africa in the next couple of years".
"In Africa's major cities many of the challenges that are faced are around traffic congestion, energy management and safety and security which are all things that IOT can help rectify," according to Meads.
IOT also has numerous applications to help solve problems across industries like mining, agriculture, healthcare, education and financial services.
"The way to approach it is not to see ICT as a competing priority for governments in Africa but rather as a foundation upon which you can accelerate the other priorities," says Meads.
He says Cisco is currently engaged with two mining companies in South Africa on a number of IOT 'proof of concepts' to look at how to bridge the gap between Information technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). He says he hopes that in the next 12 months they will move from being just proof of concepts into the real production environment for the mining firms.
"I'm bullish on what IOT means to Africa, I think it can really have a huge impact on GDP growth, it can be inclusive and really change the education system and prepare people for jobs of the future, not jobs of the past," adds Chambers.
Meads agrees saying the single biggest thing that African countries can do to unlock their potential is through the use of technology.
Leaders need to drive IOT
Chambers says companies that have a leader that "owns their digital strategy" are those that are succeeding in the IOT space, and the same goes for country leaders.
"You need to get a couple of countries that are role models, then you will see other countries following suit. You need successes and lighthouses in each region that others can follow."
Meads says that unlike president Kagame he does not think that the top leadership in South Africa truly understand how important technology is.
"Part of the challenge in South Africa is that there is not enough understanding across government of the role that technology can play. For the past six years, as I've interacted with different government leaders, there are some that absolutely get it, but by their own admission they are in the minority.
"Technology can be used as a platform to accelerate the agenda of the government but you need all ministries to buy into it. Most of all you need the person at the top to buy into it," adds Meads.
"It has to be owned by the country leader, if she or he does not buy into it, it just does not happen," concludes Chambers.