Investments in smart mobility in the Middle East are a lesson for Africa –
When you arrive at Hamad International Airport, Doha, King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh or Dubai International Airport, Dubai, it’s hard to believe that these cities were once where the most African cities.
A few years ago, rural exodus was a big problem for many countries in the Middle East, a situation in which African countries now find themselves. growth.
Today, the story is different due to the decisions of different countries to prioritize investments in smart mobility which will in turn fuel ambitious smart city projects.
A report by the International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that the region has invested around $2.3 billion in smart city technologies by the end of 2021.
The rapid push towards smart city technologies is part of moves to address the challenges of the region’s growing population and rising consumption while unlocking economic and sustainability benefits.
Anthony Butler, IBM Middle East CTO, speaking at the LEAP Technology conference in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, noted that 65% of the world will live in cities by 2050. That’s why it has become imperative for countries to reinvent the way their cities are planned, with a particular focus on mobility.
Middle Eastern nations have become aggressive in pursuit of this mandate. The number of people in the Middle East has increased from 411 million in 2016 to 456 million in 2021. During the same period, the population of Africa has increased from 1.2 billion to 1.37 billion.
As African countries lag behind even with an exploding population, in the Middle East agencies and governments are racing to adopt smarter, safer, cleaner and more efficient transport systems and solutions to improve the mobility of cities or entire countries and to improve the way of life of the population of the region.
You see it as you walk through airports to the cities’ multiple transportation systems. For example, in Lagos, Nigeria, you have to navigate your way through crowds of people, immigration officers, and airport staff to catch a flight. In Doha or Riyadh, you have several transportation options like a fast train ride through the airport, a special support vehicle, and other modern ways to catch your flight without breaking a sweat.
What is smart mobility?
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), smart mobility uses innovative digital technologies and solutions to create open and connected transportation networks that can move people and goods more efficiently and sustainably than in the past.
Smart mobility has huge benefits for countries like Nigeria with urban mobility and congestion issues in cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Onitsha. Lagos, for example, loses more than 4 trillion naira each year due to traffic congestion, according to a study by the Danne Institute.
The amount lost is the culmination of the 14.12 million hours lost by Lagosians on their daily commute to work. With the state’s population still expected to grow from current estimates of 20 million, traffic congestion is unlikely to go away unless urgent action is taken to address it.
Over the years, the state government has made efforts to address these issues, but as countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have shown, it requires an elaborate and deliberate national effort to achieve this. It is not enough to widen existing roads or build new roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure. Experts say governments need to rethink their approach to transport and focus on smart mobility.
Smart mobility is a national program
For a country like Nigeria, having an efficient technology driven transport system should be a national mandate. For Saudi Arabia, the journey towards the smart city and mobility officially began in 2016 with the unveiling of Saudi Vision 2020, “a strategic framework to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public service sectors such as transport, health, education, infrastructure, leisure and tourism,” noted a statement from LEAP. The country is currently hosting more than 100,000 delegates from around the world at the global conference. on technology.
With smart mobility driven at the national level, the government can easily bring all states together to find a sustainable approach to creating sustainable smart transportation infrastructure that connects businesses and individuals from one part of the country to another.
In Saudi Arabia, investments are also driven by a joint Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) program for smart mobility offerings, using innovative digital technologies and solutions to create open and connected transport networks in the region that can move people and freight more efficiently. and sustainably than in the past. The kingdom and other GCC countries have since spent billions of dollars to complete the project.
In Dubai, which has deployed the most investment in smart cities and mobility, projects such as the Bluewaters Group Transit and the introduction of autonomous aerial vehicles are setting the benchmark for future autonomous vehicle projects across the Middle East. East.
Government-led but private-sector led
As governments in the Middle East have committed substantial capital to smart mobility, the private sector is driving real development.
This means that issuing contracts is not a primary government concern, with the private sector being heavily involved in the conceptualization, construction and delivery processes. In this way, the whole process is transparent and there is accountability. It also builds investor confidence to be part of the vision.
This approach is at the origin of several megacity projects undertaken by several private organizations in the kingdom. One of the projects known as LINE involves building a 170 kilometer (106 mile) belt of connected communities without the need for cars or roads and will be home to over a million people.
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The project will be completely free of cars and streets, residents will have access to nature and all their daily needs within walking distance. The private consortium behind the project says the linear development of hyper-connected communities based on artificial intelligence will be powered by 100% clean energy.
The kingdom’s smart city market size is expected to reach $14.7 billion in 2027 from $3.55 billion in 2019, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.6% from 2020 to 2027.
A governance framework and regulations
A viable smart mobility project must be accompanied by a governance framework and thoughtful regulations. Both of these require legislative action and the involvement of multiple jurisdictions.
Innovators in Saudi Arabia can now patent their innovations thanks to the creation of new regulations for technological innovations. This encourages investors to see value where there are opportunities to deploy their capital.
The regulations would also improve data governance since a lot of data can be derived from transportation technology systems.
There is funding for smart mobility
Nigeria and many African countries have historically used the availability of finance as an excuse not to aggressively pursue technological upgrades to transport systems. The Middle East, on the other hand, shows that it is doable and that the government does not have to bear all the financial burden.
By creating an enabling environment, investors are able to see the value of investing in smart mobility.
Also, there are innovative ways to raise funds. One of them is the use of cryptocurrencies. Smart city developers are leveraging digital assets to fund their projects. Unfortunately, many African countries are not favorably disposed towards cryptocurrencies.
Butler said, however, that the city of the future would be a data-driven city and that could be symbolized.