Zim Cyber CityImage Credit : Mulk International, Zim Cyber City Project
Listen to story
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Do we really know enough about smart city initiatives?

As you read through the article, I encourage critical examination of the media’s role in Zimbabwe’s in communicating substantial information to the public about smart city initiatives in Zimbabwe.

As part of Zimbabwe’s Vision 2030 in tandem with National Development Strategy 1, the government of Zimbabwe has given green light to a multimillion-dollar project to build a smart city dubbed “Zim Cyber City” in Mt. Hampden, located on the outskirts of Harare.

The development of a smart city invokes the imagination of a cyber lifestyle, flying police automobiles, drones, and driverless buses—at least not for now. Coming back to reality, in the case of Zimbabwe’s Cyber City, it is about time the Zimbabweans have an appreciation of the economic potential that can be unlocked by smart city initiatives besides the overstated narrative installation of cameras to curb crime. In fact, a smart city has the potential to promote a tech startup culture that is currently lacking in Zimbabwe. However, the conditions are not universally favourable until the data subjects (the public) have a clear appreciation of the type and amount of data that will be fed into the engines of smart technologies to keep the smart city running. 

These are the questions that will be tested in this article to determine if local media has managed to communicate effectively with the public. 

I conducted research to investigate the media content covering smart initiatives in Zimbabwe. The quantitative research targeted organised networking communities of media practitioners as the primary evidence. The secondary evidence tested the primary findings by invoking machine learning web scraping to collect data on local news websites and WhatsApp news aggregators. The scrapped data was tracked against the following variables: 

  • Headlines
  • Key words: cyber, smart city, biometric data, facial recognition, etc.

The research findings proved resoundingly that the media is not providing sufficient communication to create public knowledge on smart city initiatives in Zimbabwe.

Primary Investigation Findings 

In a focus group, media practitioners, human rights defenders, and technologists.

57 out of a total of 60 respondents said the media is failing to effectively communicate information on smart city initiatives in Zimbabwe.

In this case, our investigation tested the depth of knowledge conveyed by the media on key issues such as data privacy, biometric data collection, and surveillance technologies. 

Secondary Evidence

The investigation selected 3 local news organisations where we developed a data scrapping tool to analyse headlines and body text in search of key words, including data privacy, biometric data, and surveillance.

The results proved that three sampled websites scored below 0.7%, running against the key word density for smart city initiative and biometric data as variables for the search. In other words, local media technically failed to deliver content on data privacy concerns against the background of smart city initiatives in Zimbabwe.

On the contrary, foreign bloggers working with international media outlets such as Biometric Update are effectively reporting about data privacy concerns about the smart city initiatives in Zimbabwe, narrowing the debate to policy and legislative frameworks.

The research findings reveal that local media incapacity to fully interrogate tech policy in the delivery of the journalistic mandate to produce balanced reporting has a negative bearing on the information ecosystem. The misunderstanding and failure to communicate critical information on national initiatives such as the development of smart cities weakens public media literacy and the ability to engage with content on technology. 

Recommendations to the media

This article recommends that independent media develop content strategies to unpack the critical elements of information about smart cities for the public. By dispatching this mandate, the information on smart city initiatives will equip citizens with the information to seize the opportunities that will come with smart cities. The existence of information vacuums in smart cities will be excluded.

Smart city initiatives are high-stakes public and foreign policy issues, considering their conditions of operation. Data is the fuel for smart technologies. 

Smart cities thrive on data, which is the lifeblood of all activity. The security benefits of effective policing and efficient management of resources, including water,. 

Beyond the benefits, the media must carry out the mandate to communicate information about the technical and key architectural aspects of smart cities. 

I attended a launch event where Paradigm Initiative presented a research report on smart city initiatives in Zimbabwe. The report found that the majority of Zimbabweans who responded to a survey said smart cities would improve the security and safety of citizens. However, it is also important that the media continue to effectively communicate information about smart cities beyond generalised narratives of the safety of citizens due to the presence of cameras in every street corner and also communicate information on the protection of biometric data that can be run against facial recognition software.

Rounding up

Zimbabwe’s smart city initiatives, particularly those of Zim Cyber City is on the trajectory of becoming a tech investment destination in the subregion. Here we are looking at high-tech security and the availability of industrial internet, with the national data centre providing support for mega-tech startup projects.

We’re looking at bolstering the digital economy and allowing innovation to take centre stage. 

At ZNCJ, we take the position that the Zimbabwe ICT policy unlocks opportunities within the digital economy. In this case, we are advocating for the government to find ways to pave the way for blockchain technologies and digital assets to be part of the economy in the wake of building smart cities. 

User Avatar

By Richard Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.