NAIROBI, KENYA: In his inauguration speech on November 28, 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta outlined four key pillars that would drive his economic agenda in his last term: job creation through manufacturing, food security, affordable healthcare and housing.
However, pundits are arguing that the president’s declaration is likely to put previous mega projects under Kenya’s ambitious economic blueprint Vision 2030 on the back-burners.
One of the key infrastructure projects under Vision 2030 is Konza Techno City, envisaged to be the hub of the country’s Business Processing Outsourcing and Information Technology Enabled Services (BPO/ITES).
Konza takes the name of a nondescript railway junction where the old Mombasa-Nairobi Railway line branched off to the soda mining town of Magadi.
Impalas, dik diks, zebras, giraffes and other grazers that are part of Nairobi-Amboseli ecosystem graze in the vicinity. Save from those in the immediate neighbourhood, few Kenyans could place Konza on the map.
This is where the government procured 5,000 acres for the mega project. On the face of it, little seems to have changed. In fact, some have alleged that the nearby Malili Shopping Centre is growing faster than the government-backed project.
Not so, according to John Tanui, CEO of Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA). In the last update on Konza City’s portal dated July 13, 2017, Tanui said that the government had been busy laying out requisite infrastructure before investors come knocking.
“We are putting final touches on key infrastructure such as power, broadband, access roads, rail services, water and sewerage that will all be ready within a couple of weeks. In addition, we will have a dedicated police post to ensure security for all those living, working or doing business at Konza City,” said Tanui.
Exit Konza and enter the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport corridor (Lapsset). At a cost of Sh2 trillion, this is Kenya’s most ambitious infrastructure-related project. The project will open up 70 per cent of the country that has seen little or no investment since independence.
Airports, highways, railway lines, a pipeline, power and water supply, and a new port in Lamu are some of the key projects earmarked under Lapsset.
What Kenyans may not have heard much about are three new resort cities planned under Lapsset. These will be in Lamu, Isiolo and Turkana. The cost of the three projects will be as follows: Lamu Resort City $970 million (Sh100 billion); Isiolo Resort City $200 million (Sh20.6 billion) and Turkana Resort City $42 million (Sh4.3 billion). Funding the new cities will done under Public Private Partnership framework.
But what do all these investments have to do with the president’s “Big Four”? Everything, according to Lapsset’s director-general Silvester Kasuku.
“The entire project fits into the president’s declared four pillars. The core of the project is to lay infrastructure that will open up the country and spur the manufacturing industry. New homes in the new cities will accommodate more workers. Provision of water will enhance farming activities to achieve food security while new health facilities will ensure the population remains healthy,” he says.
According to Kasuku, the basic master plans for these cities are in place, adding that this will avoid the pitfall that current urban centres face: some that grew haphazardly out of the original railway line.
AS an example, the Integrated Master Plan for the Lamu Port City encompassing the port, Special Economic Zone, resort city, international Airport, rail and pipelines is ongoing. The next step is the completion of the Master Plan for the provision of basic infrastructure and support services such as roads, electricity, water and sanitation, communication, and security.
He says the new cities are planned in regions that lack basic amenities such as water, power, roads, food and good healthcare. These, he says, are at the core of the president’s four pillars.
Kasuku says the projects are no longer part of a vision but now a reality
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“We learnt enough lessons on planning from the existing cities. Creating enabling infrastructure before brick and mortar will prevent past planning mistakes. We cannot have such modern cities and still have our women carrying plastic buckets to fetch water from great distances,” says Kasuku.
In addition, he says, the government gave priority to land matters to avoid situations where people settle but told to move out later in order to expand infrastructure. Such planning included the input of environmental bodies in a bid to preserve the environment for future generations.
Already, the government has set aside 2,600 hectares of land at Kipsing Gap for Isiolo Resort City while Turkana Resort City will sit on land near Elliye Springs.
Lamu has retained a rich cultural heritage with the new resort city positioned to transform the tourism industry in the county.
“Some of the new cities are located in areas with very sensitive natural resources that must be preserved. A good example is Lamu with its Unesco World Heritage Site status. Turkana, too, sits on prehistoric sites that saw important excavations made. Planning a city under such circumstances is a delicate task,” says Kasuku.
According to Carole Kariuki, CEO of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, development of these resort cities with their infrastructure will reel in investors into other sectors of the economy such as real estate.
“There will be hotels and residential developments once the government lays out vital infrastructure. There is no reason investors can avoid the Lapsset corridor though much of it is located on the drier part of the country. Investors have gone to war-torn countries and made money, why will they not make money in our country?” she asks.