IBM is teaming up with Kenya’s Ministry for Information, Communication and Technology to establish an IT research lab in Nairobi, which is said to be the first of its kind on the African continent. The lab, which is set to open sometime next month, will focus on solving problems such as traffic congestion, as well as improving local governance.
One of the main goals of the new research lab is to help governments better manage huge amounts of data, something that would allow them to develop capabilities to assist people in making more efficient use of public sector services.
Tony Mwai, IBM’s General Manager for East Africa, explained that Africa was in a unique situation due to its comparatively low level of internet penetration:
”There’s other ways, in other parts of the world where citizen services are delivered on top of an IT foundation, but in many other countries, especially the more developed countries, services are delivered over the Internet, making the assumption that many people have computers and they can log in, and apply for a driver’s license or passports or whatever kind of citizen services are available.”
“But you know, it’s not readily prevalent, and Internet access is not, on a non-mobile platform, is not as prevalent here in Africa, and certainly in Kenya, than it is in other parts of the world.”
One of the immediate problems that IBM wishes to tackle is that of traffic congestion. Nairobi is said to have some of the most congested roads in the world, with 35% of drivers reporting that they spend three hours or more stuck in traffic each day.
Like most African governments, Kenya simply doesn’t have the funds to be able to build new infrastructure to alleviate traffic problems, but according to Mwai it may be possible to instead turn to technology.
Using technology, it may be possible to find relatively inexpensive solutions. Mwai notes that some 70% of Kenyan adults posses cellphones, and so this makes it possible to get a picture of urban travel patterns, by tracking the location and movement of these handsets. With the information that’s collected, it may be possible to develop algorithms and suggest alternative routes to drivers, thus minimizing delays.