Israeli urban tech-integrator brings smart city management to East Africa

The first city in the region is slated to have a pilot innovation hub up and running by the end of the year.

A group photo with mayors and directors of city councils from Kenya and Uganda (photo credit: SHIRLEY BEN-DAK)
A group photo with mayors and directors of city councils from Kenya and Uganda
(photo credit: SHIRLEY BEN-DAK)
As East Africa’s population centers continue in a trend of rapid expansion, one Israeli firm is teaming up with local partners to transform the region’s cities into hubs of innovation and smart municipal management.
Earlier this month, Israeli tech-integrator Smarter Urban & IT Strategies Ltd. (S.U.iT.S) signed a three-year agreement with the Entebbe-based Lake Victoria Regional Local Authorities and Counties Cooperation (LVRLACC) to facilitate cooperation on implementing urban technologies and smart-city infrastructure throughout the area. The agreement positions S.U.iT.S as LVRLACC’s prime innovation partner in the region, which includes 130 regional authorities across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, with prospective membership from Burundi and Rwanda.
“The biggest challenges they have are very large and fast urban growth, and a big amount of it is uncontrolled,” Rafi Rich, CEO of S.U.iT.S, told The Jerusalem Post earlier last week.
Many of the 300 cities and towns across the region in question are small or medium- sized, with no more than 100,000 residents – a number that can grow to up to 400,000 during fishing season, Rich said. The cities tend to contain large slum areas, where people are paying 10 times more for water and energy than residents do in homes just a few miles away, he explained. Oftentimes, such neighborhoods are also near river basins where seasonal flooding can lead to serious diseases.
“The whole economic growth of these areas has high complexities due to these problems,” Rich said. “One of the main thing of cities like that is to re-understand what their problems are.”
Rather than integrating expansive smart-city platforms typically promoted by large vendors, which would cost millions upon millions of dollars, S.U.iT.S is aiming to find ways to much more practically “use data and information to better understand, analyze and manage the city,” Rich explained. To accomplish this mission, the partners will be focusing on integrating three types of projects: the establishment of innovation hubs, infrastructure and data management platforms, he said.
Initiating innovation hubs will be the first and easiest task, due to the wealth of Israeli expertise in this area, as well as existing academic partnerships both in the LVRLACC region and in Israel, according to Rich. Although the team plans to build upon Israeli experience, Rich stressed that there will be key differences in building the region’s hubs, due to the varying needs of these cities.
“Most of the innovation we see in Israel is not connected to real challenges,” he said. “Two guys sit in a bar have a beer and say, ‘I just thought of this, let’s create a business and make a lot of money.’”
Instead of innovating in sectors popular in Israel, like social networking or financial technology, these hubs will revolve around a “challenge-based innovation system” that examines problems on the ground, Rich explained. The centers will generate money and equity for the local authorities and foster an environment of research and development, he added.
The first city in the region is slated to have a pilot innovation hub up and running by the end of the year, while a pilot should be complete in each of the participating countries by 2018, Rich said.
The second goal that S.U.iT.S and LVRLACC intend to tackle is the establishment of community infrastructure centers in every city. There, researchers will be able to formulate electricity, water and communications solutions capable of operating on local micro-grids, Rich explained.
The last type of project, according to Rich, will involve harnessing existing mobile and geographic information systems to create data-management platforms for these increasingly smart cities.
“Everything we’re taking is off-the-shelf solutions that we’re integrating smartly,” he said. “What we are doing is creating a joint mission, a joint initiative between us. The main goal is for these cities to really be able to manage themselves.”
The three-year agreement builds upon S.U.iT.S’s existing relationship with LVRLACC and follows a previous memorandum of understanding on the subject, as well as two workshops on smart cities and urban innovation held in Entebbe in 2015 and Narok this February.
“We are very excited to continue working with Israeli-based S.U.iT.S on leveraging Israel’s experience in addressing urbanization challenges using innovation and dynamic planning,” said Vincent Kayanja, mayor of Entebbe and chairman of LVRLACC. “We look forward to working together for the benefit of local populations across the various East African municipalities that are part of LVRLACC’s multiple chapters.”
Shirley Ben-Dak, head of Global Initiatives for S.U.iT.S, added: “Given the growth in urbanization rates worldwide and specifically across Africa, this is an opportune time to build on existing synergies and cooperate on innovation-based strategies. The signed agreement serves as a great example for building on such efforts between Israel and East Africa – we are confident that this is only the beginning of a long-term partnership between S.U.iT.S and LVRLACC and between Israel and Africa.”