Konza city to challenge India’s tech giants

By Katrina Manson

The Government has begun converting 5,000 acres of savannah dotted with antelopes and ringed by hills into the most modern city in Africa.

Contractors begin work this week on the $10billiom (about Sh1 trillion) Konza Techno City project.  It is 60km south of Nairobi, which has been dubbed Kenya’s Silicon Savannah.

“This is an ultra-modern and visionary undertaking,” said President.

 The country is already a hub for global multinationals, including General Electric, Samsung, Nokia, Microsoft and Airtel, creating opportunities for local businesses that can spot a market serving them.

Kenya’s ‘Silicon Savannah’, modelled on Silicon Valley in the US, aims to have all the ingredients for entrepreneurial success in the same place to help companies do just that – not only talent and – infrastructure, but also universities to nurture innovative students and the businesses to employ them afterwards. Plans for an ambitious public-private partnership to challenge India’s ascendancy in outsourcing are being drawn up.

Designers say the scale of the project compares with creating another Manhattan, Central London or inner city Beijing.

“This is a globally significant project,” says Todd Sigaty at SHoP Architects, which leads the design team for the master plan and has previously designed Brooklyn’s Barclays Centre, which opened last year.

The project has been designed to tap into Kenya’s emerging role as a centre for information technology and innovation.

Kenya has four undersea fibre-optic cables for high-speed Internet, which could rise to seven by the end of the year. In 2007 Kenyans created a system to send money and pay bills via mobile phones that today transfers the equivalent of 27 per cent of its GDP and has been exported around the world.

Rather than echo a smattering of tech parks and business centres starting up on the continent, Kenya envisions a broader city-from-scratch to bring research universities, industry and government together, along the lines of Silicon Valley. “We want to use that to incubate start-ups,” says Bitange Ndemo, ministry of Information and Communications PS, who conceived and lobbied for the project against naysayers.

Already companies such as Google and IBM are looking beyond South Africa for regional headquarters and Kenya is benefitting.

The Government will spend an initial $210 million (Sh200 billion) building the basics - water, energy, sewerage, roads - and hopes the private sector will take over after that, building offices, homes, universities and data centres in line with a state-led master plan.

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