Smart cities to generate investment, boost economic growth

Source: Smart cities to generate investment, boost economic growth | Sunday News (Opinion)

Judith Phiri, Business Reporter

AS the country adopts the Smart City concept, three pilot projects to kick-start the process have been identified as those places are transformed into digital and green energy smart cities.

The Smart City concept is expected to generate the much-needed investments expected to boost economic growth towards the targeted upper middle-income status by 2030.

Setting in motion the Smart City concept, National Housing and Social Amenities Minister Dr Daniel Garwe recently said his ministry has endeavoured to move with the times and adopt strategies that conform to the dictates of the digitalised world and globalisation.

“This has culminated in the adoption of the Smart City concept. We have prioritised three pilot projects to kick-start the whole process, that is, Melfort in Mashonaland East Province, Figtree in Matabeleland South Province and Chirundu in Mashonaland West Province.

 “Ideally, these are completely new cities that are anchored on digitalisation and green energy where people ‘Live, Work and Play’. This implies that we’re not there to create a dormitory town for Bulawayo for instance, with the case of Figtree,” said Dr Garwe.

He said this was not an event but a process, with proper procedures to be observed and wider consultations conducted.

The Minister said the implementation would be phased, with the first phase encompassing stakeholder consultation, detailed feasibility studies and planning.

 “Government is there to promote the idea, but the respective local authorities and the private sector are the prime movers of the concept when it comes to implementation and stakeholder participation.”

He said there was an appetite in the private sector for such investment opportunities, especially from the insurance and pension funds, the financial sector, asset management entities, realtors and other investors.

Dr Garwe said the packaging of the concept, mainstreaming the opportunities as well as roles and responsibilities in line with the provisions of the Zimbabwean laws guiding investment in Zimbabwe was critical at this stage.

“It is vital to highlight that Government thrust is not only on new cities, even the conventional urban settlements need regeneration and renewal in line with the Zimbabwe National Human Settlements Policy.

“A case in point is that, Bulawayo City Council is working on the regeneration of Makokoba, Mutare is working on Sakubva, Harare is working on Mbare and Victoria Falls is working on Chinotimba, to mention a few.”

Dr Garwe said they did not expect a replica of the pre-colonial Makokoba, Sakubva, Mbare or Chinotimba with the tired designs and service provision post urban renewal. He said this exercise provided an opportunity to try out digitalisation, green energy, and metered or prepaid liquid petroleum gas systems and internet connectivity among other services.

“There are many benefits emanating from the use of digital technology. For instance, the local authority can detect leakages in real time, whether for water or sewer. The power utilities can detect illegal connections or vandalism of infrastructure in real time. Billing can be simplified for all utilities provided thereby reducing the default rate by instilling rate payers’ confidence as it promotes transparency and accountability,” said Dr Garwe.

The Second Republic has ensured that the Smart City concept is adopted in a whole of Government approach. This approach allows joint activities performed by diverse ministries, departments, public administrations and public agencies in order to provide a common solution to particular problems or issues.

Another critical Ministry in the adoption of the Smart City concept is the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services. Responding to questions from the Sunday News, the Minister, Dr Jenfan Muswere said his ministry working together with other ministries and players has the mandate to implement Smart City solutions in Zimbabwe.

Dr Jenfan Muswere

 “The Ministry has a National Data Centre, an extensive network infrastructure throughout the country and technical capacity to develop and implement Smart City Solutions.

“Smart Cities fulfil Government’s strategic thrust of introducing operational efficiencies in law enforcement and city administration through incorporating ICT technologies,” said Dr Muswere.

“This will also promote public safety as well as modernising management of Zimbabwean cities, in line with the Government’s Smart Zimbabwe Agenda 2030.  The Smart Zimbabwe Agenda seeks to provide smart solutions in Government, cities, agriculture, education, transportation, health, tourism, and mining, among others as articulated in the Smart Zimbabwe 2030 Master Plan.”

He said the Smart City project will provide national benefits such as safer cities from tracking and reducing crime using digital means and operational efficiencies in the administration of local authorities.

Among other key benefits are improved city authorities’ decision making while enhancing citizens’ experience, enhanced crime detection and enforcement, and revenue assurance through optimised parking enforcement.

The Minister highlighted that some of the key areas where much progress has been made include e-Government initiatives, smart agriculture, smart health project and smart education among others.

“As we roll out e-Government initiatives, at national level, Government embarked on the Zim-Connect project that aims to provide e-services to citizens, businesses and the public sector. The ministry is working closely with the e-Government Unit in the Office of the President and Cabinet to automate Government systems through the deployment of e-Services,” he added.

“Under smart agriculture, Zimbabwe has developed its AgriTech Strategy, which will operationalise the blueprint through pilots in support of the Smart Zimbabwe 2030 Masterplan.”

He said for the smart health project, there will be provision of internet connectivity to 1 500 health centres under the e-health program.

Through smart education, Government has rolled out various e-learning projects to schools over the past years as a way of making ICT services universally accessible to unserved and underserved areas in the country.

“The target is to equip all schools in Zimbabwe with modern ICT laboratories. This is in line with President Mnangagwa’s vision of building a prosperous Zimbabwe, leaving no one and no place behind.”

Financial advisory firm, DEAT Capital Zimbabwe recently hosted a Financing Smart Cities and Rural Connect Conference, aimed at addressing and raising solutions to financing, which has been viewed as one of the biggest challenges to implementing a smart city strategy.

DEAT Capital is a Zimbabwe trade and investment firm. Their focus is on development of smart cities, renewable energy projects, end to end logistics solutions, logistics infrastructure and management in Southern Africa.

The event ran under the theme: “Innovative financing solutions of the cities and rural communities’ ecosystem post Covid-19 pandemic.”

DEAT Capital Zimbabwe managing director, Mr Nicky Moyo said the aim of the conference was to unpack financing which is often stated as one of the biggest challenges to implementing a smart city strategy.

He said while bigger cities might be able to develop robust business models, creative revenue models and identify value capture which can attract investors, this route was almost impossible for small and medium-sized cities and rural communities purely due to a lack of organisational capacity.

Mr Moyo said this is where digital financing platforms could play an important role and all the decisions and functioning were based on finance.

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