The Future of Humanity Is Increasingly African
A Unicef report recently proclaimed that “The future of humanity is increasingly African.” The report estimates the African population will more than double to 2.4 billion people by 2050.
The clogged roundabouts of Accra, ruined roads of Congo and dangerous highways of Uganda are the day to day reality for most Africans. The dream of being the next space age Singapore or quirky Portland seem unattainable as a flood of urbanization into cities built for a fraction of their populations makes transportation in Africa worse and worse.
While traffic congestion is decreasing the quality of life in more and more African cities, with a forty mile trip from the Benin border to Lagos taking twelve hours, the danger of inadequate traffic infrastructure is even more insidious. Today, due to poor safety regulation and lax driving standards 612 people die every day across the continent from road deaths. Road deaths are set to surpass tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS to become the greatest killer across the continent by 2030.
Africa’s streets need to become less clogged and more safe. New and innovative thinking of city design, modes of transportation and behavior of motorists need to be brought to life so that Africa with its exploding population avoids the pitfalls that sees India suffocating beneath 53 cities that have more than one million people and Chinese cities covered in a fog of pollution.
What is exciting is that instead of being a lesson in idealism, things can progress differently in Africa. The Director of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, Professor Bruce Krogh, speaks of the benefit “Of present African infrastructure being largely a blank slate. We are building on a green field and don’t have to deal with the legacy systems of the past, instead we can use the best technological opportunities of today.” Rural villages are getting access to the internet faster than they are getting access to electricity, smart phones are more pervasive than televisions and online freelancing services give entrepreneurs the ability to work from anywhere.
My company, SafeMotos, benefits from this new techno-generated era of possibility. We are making motorcycle taxis safer, which is important since they account for 80% of traffic accidents in Rwanda and 50% in Kenya. We are doing this by equipping drivers with smartphones which gives us telematic data from the phones accelerometer, gyroscope and GPS data. We know if the driver is safer or more dangerous than average and let customers use an Uber style app to hire drivers by their safety ranking.
To accomplish this we rely on pervasive high speed internet, cheap and powerful smartphones and the Uber business model. When I first arrived to the continent of Africa in 2007, the area I was living in Ghana didn’t have 2G internet connection, the original iPhone hadn’t been released and Uber was years away from even being thought about.
It is exciting to be on the forefront of a new chapter of innovation. The business models and new ideas that could unlock success in Africa are business models that don’t exist yet.
SafeMotos is fortunate to be based in Rwanda, a place I would highly suggest as a base for any group looking to innovate in Africa. Many people choose to be in Kenya or Nigeria, they are large markets with many consumers. However, they are also very messy to run a startup or pilot in. Corruption is endemic, infrastructure is shoddy and bureaucracy a cruel form of punishment. By the time you actually are able to launch a product or service more time will have been spent playing chess with leviathan than product development or research. Rwanda, on the other hand, has the second lowest corruption rate on the continent, perfect highways that crisscross the tiny country and is a leader worldwide on ease of doing business with the ability to set up a company free of charge in less than thirty minutes.
Rwanda is like a laboratory for the continent where innovative ideas can be tested before they are brought to the rest of the continent. For myself when I started SafeMotos, I was able to secure an ICT entrepreneur visa, register my business while I waited for a coffee and be able to work for free from the local tech hub kLab.
I feel privileged to be working in an area with both such need and such opportunity. I believe that SafeMotos will be using technology to save lives and that our success will be a part of the story showing that Africa is open for business. I believe that it is possible for a radically better future for Africa and would say that anyone who cares about positive impact, innovative thinking or high growth markets should be hopping on planes to Kigali to begin the creative process of imagining just how much is possible.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Social distancing is becoming the new normal, at least for those of us who are heeding the Center for Disease Control’s warnings and guidelines. But if you don’t have reliable, high-speed broadband, it is impossible to engage in what is now the world’s largest telecommunity. As many schools and universities around the world (including those of my kids) are shut down, these institutions are optimistically converting to online and digital learning. However, with our current broadband layout, this movement will certainly leave many Americans behind.
Accenture analysts recently released a report calling for cities to take the lead in creating coordinated, “orchestrated” mobility ecosystems. Limiting shared services to routes that connect people with mass transit would be one way to deploy human-driven services now and to prepare for driverless service in the future. Services and schedules can be linked at the backend, and operators can, for example, automatically send more shared vehicles to a train station when the train has more passengers than usual, or tell the shared vehicles to wait for a train that is running late.
Managing urban congestion and mobility comes down to the matter of managing space. Cities are characterized by defined and restricted residential, commercial, and transportation spaces. Private autos are the most inefficient use of transportation space, and mass transit represents the most efficient use of transportation space. Getting more people out of private cars, and into shared feeder routes to and from mass transit modes is the most promising way to reduce auto traffic. Computer models show that it can be done, and we don’t need autonomous vehicles to realize the benefits of shared mobility.
The role of government, and the planning community, is perhaps to facilitate these kinds of partnerships and make it easier for serendipity to occur. While many cities mandate a portion of the development budget toward art, this will not necessarily result in an ongoing benefit to the arts community as in most cases the budget is used for public art projects versus creating opportunities for cultural programming.
Rather than relying solely on this mandate, planners might want to consider educating developers with examples and case studies about the myriad ways that artists can participate in the development process. Likewise, outreach and education for the arts community about what role they can play in projects may stimulate a dialogue that can yield great results. In this sense, the planning community can be an invaluable translator in helping all parties to discover a richer, more inspiring, common language.