Nairobi set for revolution with IBM expertise

March 7, 2012
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IMB country head Tony Mwai (l) with PS Bitange Ndemo
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 7 – American multinational technology and consulting corporation IBM is partnering with the Kenyan government in an ambitious initiative to transform Nairobi into a smarter, more efficient city using the latest technology to overcome its many problems.

Speaking at the Nairobi Smarter City White Paper launch, IBM Country General Manager for East Africa Tony Mwai said Nairobi is ready to become a smart city because it’s not only importing innovations, but is also exporting innovations such as mobile money and crowd sourcing, which contribute to the city’s development.

“The technology in Kenya exists now and I think there’s a strong will by the private and public sector to do something in partnership to solve the issues in Nairobi,” he stated.

“This city has unique challenges which are very different from Stockholm, London, Rio Di Janeiro, Johannesburg or Beijing so we have to work with the stakeholders to understand the prevalent issues and changes that need to be addressed in Nairobi,” he said.

Ministry of Information and Communication Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo thanked IBM for providing the government with a grant to advance the White Paper initiative through a comprehensive study in order to make recommendations on how to make Nairobi a more efficient city.

“This plan to transform Nairobi into a smart city discusses issues dealing with water leakages, oil spillages, transportation problems and energy inconsistencies,” he revealed.

“If we can prevent some of these issues then we will create greater efficiency, which is important in Kenya because we lose several billion dollars each year due to our inability to manage our resources effectively,” he acknowledged.

One of the most costly issues that the White Paper initiative will attempt to fix is the problem with traffic congestion, which costs Nairobi Sh50 million a day in lost productivity, fuel consumption and pollution.

Transport Permanent Secretary Cyrus Njiru announced that “we are going to reorganise the infrastructure of our roads and bypasses by expanding them to allow a better flow of traffic and we’re working on the commuter railway system to reduce the number of people that use the road for transportation.”

The 2011 IBM Commuter Pain study estimates that Nairobi has the world’s fourth most painful commute and almost two thirds of people who travel in the city report that traffic negatively affects their work, family and health.

“With the population growing and urbanisation rapidly transforming our cities, we must change the way we interact with each other on the road to create a better culture of transportation,” he appealed.

Njiru revealed that he has been working with Ndemo and others to create a Transport Integrated Management System (TIMS), which monitors the road to record and report drivers who commit traffic violations and broadcast their crimes on the news.

“We must change the culture of undisciplined driving in Nairobi because that’s the reason we have so many accidents, and we believe the media will be able to help us with this project,” he said.

Another major issue that the White Paper launch aims to improve is providing reliable and affordable energy.

According to Ndemo, “Kenya needs to double the current capacity of energy in the next five years.”

Nairobi suffers from 11,000 high voltage fluctuations and power outages every month, which is an inconvenience to businesses that lose money and customers due to the problem.

Energy Permanent Secretary Patrick Nyoike revealed that they are creating new substations to transform voltage and isolate faults in either the transmission or distribution systems to better serve customers.

“We are also changing the size of conductors so they have a higher carrying capacity, but this is not going to solve all our problems,” he admitted.

“We are making heavy investments in Nairobi where we are spending $300 million as we replace the 66 kilovolt lines with 220 kilovolt lines to enable us to create a smart grid,” he declared.

Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) hopes to generate about 27 percent of the country’s electrical power from geothermal sources by 2031.

“We are doing the first and biggest geothermal station to be done in the world in Olkaria, which will cost $1 billion,” he disclosed.

The project is scheduled to be commissioned by the first quarter of 2014 and Nyoike revealed that they are still actively seeking other alternative energy supply sources such as solar and wind power generation in order to meet growing demand for power.

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