Don’t play politics with Konza City, CS Charity Ngilu warned

By appearing to trigger controversy over ownership of Konza City, Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu is being accused of frustrating the implementation of the Konza Technology City project, which Makueni leaders say will propel the county into a key pillar of Kenya’s economy.

 “Unless someone wants to forestall development by making it seem as if there is infighting, there shouldn’t be a row over the project at all. There was an attempt to transfer Konza to Machakos when the project was mooted, but that plan was not because it was unconstitutional,” says Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana.

 Prof Kibwana argues that any changes on administrative and political boundary require constitutional amendment, which in turn would imply a review of all the boundaries of administrative units in the country.

 The controversy has raised fresh fears about the future of one of the projects aimed at elevating Kenya to the status of a newly-industrialised nation.

Phase one development

On the ground, there has been minimum activity apart from the signing in June of an American Tetra Tech Inc to oversee the development of phase one of the envisaged smart city. However, as technocrats mull over the financing the project that will cost Sh1.2 trillion to implement over the next 20 years, the location and development of the city is increasingly dominated by politics.

 The county governments of Makueni, Machakos and Kajiado have in the past year been embroiled in a bitter row over the location of the city. The row escalated further when Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu recently published a controversial map that placed Konza Techno City in Machakos County.

Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana reads deliberate mischief in the row, which he says has political undertones, calculated to stall the project.

Economic growth

Prof Kibwana says the delay in enacting the law for execution of the project has created a void and people opposed to it have taken advantage to precipitate “unnecessary controversy.”

“Konza is a flagship project of Vision 2030, just as Lapsset (Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport) corridor, SGR (Standard Gauge Railway) or the Mui Coal Mines in Kitui. It should be initiated with speed because it is mammoth development intended to create employment and spur Kenya’s economic growth. The future of the country is information, communication and technology. It is therefore imperative that the project gets priority in the budget,” Prof Kibwana told The Nairobian.

 The Land CS touched off the controversy when she published a map placing Konza in Machakos as per the Provinces and Districts Act of 1992 that established the 47 districts that were later adopted by the defunct Independent Boundaries Commission as counties. However, administratively Konza is in Makueni County. The new development drew Kajiado County, which also lay claim to part of the project.

 “When the government wanted 5,000 acres for the project, it negotiated with Makueni District authorities. The certificate issued by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) bears the name of Makueni District. Any project – whether private or public – must be within a county. It is sheer mischief to claim Konza is in Machakos or Kajiado,” Kibwana charged.

 Tetra Technology Inc signed a Sh25 million deal with the government in June this year to be the lead firm that will oversee phase one of development of the city dubbed ‘African Silicon Savannah.’

The latest post on Konza City website says, “The Phase 1 Master Plan, which will begin on a 400-acre piece of land, will include 1.5 million square metres of initial real estate development (1.1 million square metres of residential, 100,000 square metres of commercial office, 200,000 square metres of university and dormitory, and 100,000 square metres of amenity space).”

Relevant laws

When this phase is fully developed, it is expected to attract over 30,000 residents; 7,500 knowledge workers and 16,700 other workers.

According to the website, “It is envisaged that this will be a sufficient critical mass to demonstrate the type of high quality physical and attractive business environment that will catalyse the subsequent 20 years of development on the remaining 4,500 acres of KTC (Konza Technology City) land.”

In this year’s budget estimates, the government set aside Sh900 million for phase one of the project. Its commencement is predicated on the enactment of relevant laws to get it off the ground.

By delaying the law, Kibwana says, “Someone does not want to speed up the project that has the potential of benefiting the whole world.”