Examining Nairobi’s ‘Smart City’ Potential
Dubbed “Silicon Savannah”, Kenya has ushered in a new era of information and communication technology (ICT) in the last decade. Nairobi is considered a pivotal urban center of the ICT revolution in East Africa; however, the city faces critical transportation and logistics challenges as it continues to grow and expand. According to the Government of Kenya, the population is set to quadruple from 3.1 million in 2014 to 12.1 million in 2030. Traffic-related congestion, high road fatalities, and an unregulated mass transit network – dominated by the informal matatu industry – pose distinct challenges to equitable growth, but also opportunities, as technology-for-transport (TFT) startups are offering an abundance of digital mobility services.
“Navigating Nairobi: Digital Innovation in Urban Transport and Logistics in Kenya” examines how TFT startups with creative and innovative services are plugging information gaps, and working around many of the existing inefficiencies in the transport system. Yet, while digital innovation in transportation is taking place, the report poses the central question: “Can technology-for-transport startups in Nairobi create discernible consumer benefit without underlying change in transport infrastructure, policy or planning?”
Research in Nairobi, which included over 65 key informant interviews, including 30 TFT startups, revealed that while TFTs have varying levels of impact, the benefit of digital mobility services was largely restricted to high-income consumers with quality access to Internet, especially via smartphones. Central to this dilemma is the “trust deficit” that exists among customers; for example, when engaging with transit-focused mobile applications. Most startups choose not to engage with government and policymakers, and few systemic changes have occurred in creating underlying change in the transit system. However, there remains immense potential for start-ups, state actors and the “innovation ecosystem” to enable more inclusive human-centered design of digital mobility services.