Cisco believes Rwanda’s Kagame really gets I.T. relevance

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Photo file of Paul Kagame

Cisco believes Africa’s first smart city could be in Rwanda. Cisco executive chairman John Chambers told ITWeb on the side-lines of the Internet of Things World Forum (IoTWF), in Dubai, that he is bullish about the growth potential for the Internet of things (IOT) in Africa.

If you look at Rwanda, what president Paul Kagame is doing there is amazing. He really gets it,” said Chambers. Cisco’s VP for Africa, David Meads, agreed Rwanda’s president is one of the leaders who “gets it“, and said Rwanda’s capital is already working on IOT services like a connected airport, connected hotels, stadiums and conference centers.

As we speak, there are projects happening in Kigali, which form the basis of that city becoming a smart city,” said Meads. “I think in the next couple of years, we will start seeing a number of smart cities, perhaps the smaller cities in the first instance, but we will definitely see the acceleration of IOT in Africa.

John Chambers of Cisco

Kigali might be one example, but I think there will be half a dozen examples of African cities connected by IOT in the coming years.” He wouldn’t confirm where Cisco is engaging with city leadership in Africa, but said Johannesburg “has a real chance” of being one of the first smart cities on the continent.

Also on his list of cities that could soon move towards digitization and smart innovation are Gaborone, Nairobi, Maputo and Cairo. “Does it mean every service will be fully digitized?

No, but you will start to see a smart city where you have the infrastructure for IOT and have started to build the vertical services needed.” However, Chambers noted: “Africa offers a tremendous opportunity, but I do not see any of the African countries moving with the speed that they need to.

John Chambers said Cisco is speaking to most of Africa’s government leaders about moving IOT and digitization forward in their countries, and he plans to meet with SA’s leadership in the first quarter of 2016.

Meads agreed Africa is lagging when it comes to IOT, but predicts: “IOT will accelerate a lot more in Africa in the next couple of years. “In Africa’s major cities, many of the challenges that are faced are around traffic congestion, energy management and safety and security, which are all things that IOT can help rectify,” according to Meads.

IOT also has numerous applications to help solve problems across industries like mining, agriculture, healthcare, education and financial services. “The way to approach it is not to see ICT as a competing priority for governments in Africa, but rather as a foundation on which you can accelerate the other priorities,” said Meads.

Cisco is currently engaged with two mining companies in SA on a number of IOT proofs of concepts (POCs), he noted, to look at how to bridge the gap between IT and operational technology. Meads said he hopes in the next 12 months they will move from being just POCs to the real production environment for the mining firms.

I’m bullish on what IOT means to Africa. I think it can really have a huge impact on GDP growth, it can be inclusive and really change the education system and prepare people for jobs of the future, not jobs of the past,” added Chambers. Meads said the single biggest thing African countries can do to unlock their potential is to use technology.

Chambers said companies with a leader who “owns their digital strategy” are those that are succeeding in the IOT space, and the same goes for country leaders. “You need to get a couple of countries that are role models, then you will see other countries following suit. You need successes and lighthouses in each region that others can follow.”

Meads said, unlike Rwanda’s Kagame, the top leadership in SA does not truly understand how important technology is. “Part of the challenge in South Africa is that there is not enough understanding across government of the role that technology can play. For the past six years, as I’ve interacted with different government leaders, there are some that absolutely get it, but by their own admission they are in the minority.

Technology can be used as a platform to accelerate the agenda of the government, but you need all ministries to buy into it. Most of all, you need the person at the top to buy in to it,” added Meads. “It has to be owned by the country leader; if she or he does not buy into it, it just does not happen,” concluded Chambers.

Source: Paula Gilbert

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