Governing African smart cities: The role of digital citizenship in municipal e-participation

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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
The rapid urbanisation, combined with the proliferation of information and communication technology (ICT), has driven cities across Africa to adopt smart city strategies to manage urban development. As the adoption of smart city strategies increases across varied contexts, a call for a citizen-centric approach to smart cities has emerged – an effort to address the needs of citizens in smart city projects. While citizen-centric approaches are being adopted in smart governance, the role of citizens in a digital era are thinly explored in relation to their impact on the participation of citizens in smart cities across Africa. Drawing upon case studies from three cities, Cape Town, Nairobi and Rabat, this paper explores the role played by the emerging digital citizenship in smart governance, with a focus on e-participation. Using a three-dimensional framework of e-enabling, e-engaging and e-empowering, the paper identifies two factors that impact negatively on citizens’ participation through e-participation platforms. First is the citizens’ poor sense of belonging in terms of digital access and participation rights. Second, the paper identifies low political efficacy among citizens, coupled with high corruption levels among municipal officials; citizens have a poor perception of the utility of participating through e-participation platforms. The paper argues that it is crucial to consider the spatial characteristics of a city, the social-cultural factors and the political climate of a city to predict the role of citizens in smart governance – citizens’ sense of belonging and their political efficacy.
African Governance, Digital Age, Smart cities, Smart governance, e-participation, Digital citizenship, African cities