Today marks the launch of a new IBM Research facility in Nairobi, Kenya. In Kenya alone, IBM has deployed seven Corporate/Executive Service Corps and Smarter Cities Challenge teams to help improve critical infrastructure, spur economic growth, and strengthen the country’s ability to develop and retain top talent in technology.
In the article below, Smarter Cities Challenge alumnus Curtis Clark writes about how his team interviewed more than 80 Kenyan stakeholders en route to developing solutions to Nairobi’s traffic congestion and economic development issues.
Already an East African economic force, Nairobi, Kenya is on a mission. The city of more than three million residents aspires to become one of the world’s leading urban areas, but to do that, it’ll have to get a handle on critical operational issues – including transportation. Nairobi has some of the world’s worst traffic congestion – a problem that costs Kenya’s capital approximately $500,000 per day in lost productivity and excess fuel consumption.
I was part of a select group of six IBM global executives deployed to Nairobi for a three-week Smarter Cities Challenge assignment. Our task was to evaluate the city’s severe transportation challenges. We interviewed more than 80 Kenyan stakeholders and reviewed in excess of 40 reports, studies and planning documents. We then analyzed the data and developed a comprehensive solution roadmap to improve transportation throughout the region, assure sound investments in the transportation infrastructure, and accelerate the execution of existing plans.
Nairobi’s traffic congestion problems are staggering. Seventy-five percent of the city’s 1.5 million commuters drive alone over a road network that dates from when Nairobi was one-tenth its present size. In addition to costing half a million dollars per day in lost productivity, Nairobi’s traffic congestion is clearly producing greenhouse gases. This combination is unsustainable for a city with global aspirations.
Based on insights from Kenyan leaders and inspired by IBM’s successes with similar transportation issues in cities such as London, Rio de Janeiro, and Stockholm, we focused our recommendations on establishing a Smarter Transportation Authority, creating a centralized operations center, equipping police with mobile devices for reporting accidents, and utilizing analytics to integrate traffic data from multiple sources – including citizen reports.
In many ways, the development plans for Kenya (Kenya Vision 2030) and the Nairobi region reminded me of similarly audacious plans for my home state of North Carolina, where the late 1950s development of Research Triangle Park stemmed the “brain drain” from the state’s top universities, attracted 100 global corporations, and fueled more than 40,000 high technology careers. Similarly, we hope that our recommendations for will help lay the foundation for the effective movement of people, businesses and investments both within the city and to outlying developments such as the planned new urban developments Tatu City and Konza Technology City. Our work in Nairobi shows that improving traffic is only a means to an end. Economic development and better lives for citizens are the ultimate goals.
I feel privileged to have experienced the vibrancy and optimism of Nairobi and Kenya. Although my team and I have returned to our “day jobs,” we remain engaged with IBM Africa to build on our Kenyan relationships and continue the work we started. I hope to see Nairobi’s new transportation infrastructure in action one day. In the meantime, I’ve taken away the awesome experience of supporting a country’s vision for a brighter future, and helping to build a smarter planet firsthand.
Curtis Clark is Director of Global Government with IBM Sales & Distribution, Public Sector.
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