File image: IOL.

CAPE TOWN - Africa’s digital cities was a major topic at the #MESTAfricaSummit on Tuesday. 

The concept of continued development at such a rapid pace has always been an interesting concept for tech innovators. 

During the debate on Tuesday Sub-Saharan Africa's urbanisation challenges was a real focal point. 

The continent's population is likely to double to 2 billion by 2050 and 57% will be expected to live in cities. This is the facts and therefore changes will incur especially amidst rising urban inequality. 

“Cities are struggling to provide services and economic opportunities to the vastly growing population in urban centres. 37% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population resides in cities and by 2050 60% of urban residents are expected to live in informal settlements due to resource constraints,” explains Anokhi Parikh, Senior Consultant at Dalberg. 

“We need to focus on finding solutions that are inclusive, scalable and sustainable. Inclusion needs to be at the center of the urban agenda and tech has a really large role to play in this.”

At the same time, investment in urban services and economic opportunities are lagging and we need new approaches to help bridge the gap. Across the world, we are beginning to see technology improve urban governance and service delivery. Yet, few technologists are creating solutions for African cities and even fewer are developing solutions that are inclusive. 

Katie Hill, Advisor at Omidyar Network, adds: “We need to be discussing how we are enabling African cities to grow to twice their size with half the resources necessary and still ensuring quality of life.” 

Two of the panelists on the Digital Cities panel is focused on more formalised housing as key to driving inclusion and using tech to ensure the majority of the population that currently resides in informal or unplottable housing, has an address and therefore identity as well as inclusivity. 

“We need to be smarter with our resources”, continues Katie Hill, “the problem is innovators and entrepreneurs are focusing on the consumer too much and not as much on the city and regulators. Therefore, they are tapping into a mere 15% of the market as opposed to 60%.” 

It is evident and critical that innovators work together with the government and regulators to ensure technology drives inclusion in major urban areas in the rapidly expanding African continent. 

This debate will continue over the next day as the summit draws to an end. 

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