After a long lull, the Konza Technopolis is inching back to life, triggering interest in property around the smart city along the busy Nairobi-Mombasa highway.
Mooted in 2008 by the government, the technology city promised a unique opportunity for Kenya to seize a substantial amount of the growing global business process outsourcing and information technology services.
Minimal activity at the technopolis in the early years, however, cast doubt on the entire development, with some critics labeling the grand dream a white elephant in the making.
This came even as the National Treasury approved more than Sh12 billion in additional budgetary allocations to the project for the 2019-20 financial year.
Dubbed Africa’s Silicon Savannah, the city was gazetted as a Special Economic Zone – the heart of innovative solutions for information communication and technology (ICT), business, health and education.
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Property development – both residential and commercial - universities, technical and vocational education and training institutions and schools, hospitals, research and development facilities are key selling points that the Konza Technopolis Development Authority (Kotda) employs to woo investors to the project.
Despite the lofty ambitions by the State to tap into the global fortunes in technology, the city is yet to fully take shape and only a few facilities are complete or nearing completion. These include the National Data Centre.
Construction of the smart city, however, appears to be revving back to life.
Considerable development is coming up and taking shape, signifying the revitalisation of the project.
Government and national leaders have in recent months visited the city and called for speedier development of the town that promises many jobs.
ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru says there’s a strong foundation for establishing a smart city.
“We have different partners who are already setting up their vertical infrastructure which includes universities, hospitals and accommodation facilities,” he said.
Mucheru said the Covid-19 pandemic had delayed some work, but activities at the site have regained momentum.
The government also plans to set up a centre of excellence for the construction industry at Konza.
Public Works Principal Secretary Gordon Kihalangwa said during a recent visit to the technology city that construction of the centre would begin in a year.
“By creating such a centre, we will ensure that from time to time, our people are educated and proper guidelines in the construction industry outlined so that challenges in the construction centre are addressed,” he said.
“We are hoping that within a year or so, we should have already begun construction.”
Kihalangwa, who led a delegation from the National Construction Authority, said the government wants to create a centre of excellence for the country’s vibrant construction industry.
“It is an industry that employs citizens and foreigners and it is good to ensure we have a centre of excellence where some of the challenges we face are addressed,” he said.
While visiting the city last month with 10 MPs, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka urged the government to acquire more land for expansion, saying the current 5,000 acres the project was sitting on would be insufficient in coming years.
Kotda Chief Executive John Tanui told the delegation that the initial two phases – which host the data centre and offices – were nearing completion.
“We are constructing a total of 170 kilometres of storm water drainage and water supply lines as well as an automated and pressurised 15-kilometre system of solid waste management,” he said.
As the city takes shape, investors are also showing increased interest, seeking a slice of the country’s answer to similar developments across the continent such as Eko Atlantic in Nigeria, Hope City in Ghana, Waterfall City in South Africa, Vision City in Rwanda and Ethiopia’s The Real Wakanda.
By last year, the technopolis had attracted over 40 companies that had applied to establish investments in technological ventures, according to Kotda.
Konza lies within the vast plains in Machakos County, roughly 70 kilometres south-east of Nairobi, and had many ingredients of an investment hub: Proximity to the already robust tech industry in the capital city, good terrain for commercial activity as well as excellent weather.
The proximity of the area to other towns including Kitengela, a rich hub of horticulture, and its numerous educational institutions is a plus for potential investors given that there are planned direct roads from Konza to Lukenya, Kitengela and Isinya, among others.
The beginning of the construction of the Nairobi Expressway that runs from Mlolongo to Westlands has also raised hopes of easing of traffic on the key highway.
This, coming on the back of the dualing of the Machakos-Athi River section, has made Konza an attractive destination for investors and home owners.
The Standard Gauge Railway also passes nearby and has a sub-station just outside the city.
“With these developments, Konza is a truly commuting distance from Nairobi as well as Makueni, Machakos and Kajiado counties,” says Sharlene Mutinda, the managing director of Ntashart Investment, one of the earliest property dealers in Konza.
She says what makes the city attractive is its weather and good soil, which is good for both commercial and residential developments as well as agriculture.
Prospects of residing in the vicinity of the country’s first smart city also makes investing in Konza an attractive idea, says Mutinda.
“We have in recent months seen a spike in the number of buyers of our property which is only three kilometres from the Nairobi-Mombasa highway,” she says.
Other planned developments at the technopolis include light manufacturing, retail establishments, hotels and convention centres, entertainment facilities including stadiums and cinemas, utilities such as energy and water, infrastructure and logistics.