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Phase 1A of tech city ready for development

Interview - May 30, 2016

The first country in the region to set up a smart city, Konza Techno City, Kenya is way ahead in East Africa’s ICT development race. John Tanui, CEO of the Konza Technopolis Development Authority, looks at the impact the development will have on Kenya and how Phase 1A “Africa’s Silicon Savannah” is now primed for development.



How does the future of ICT in the continent illustrate the growth potential of Africa?

After decades of relative isolation due to poor ICT infrastructure, projects building mobile and high-speed internet networks for the region’s more than 900 million people are now being completed with astonishing speed. As cellular phone coverage expands, mobile devices are becoming more common: 79% of people in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to have mobile phones by 2020.

Also, as countries are seeing their technological infrastructure move closer to the cutting edge, sub-Saharan economies are already benefiting from what has been called the “leapfrog effect.” Rather than investing in – and then upgrading – older fixed-line technologies such as phone lines, countries can realize cost efficiencies by jumping straight into mobile broadband. This is actually enabling the region to develop more quickly than industrialized countries did in the past.


To what extent would you agree that Kenya leads the region?

Kenya’s leadership in ICT is quite clear and there are many aspects that demonstrate this. We currently have the largest mobile penetration and we were central in creating a new revolution in mobile banking through M-Pesa. Kenya also has the largest number of internet subscribers, and it is growing at an exponential rate.

On the utilization of the available bandwidth, Kenya already enjoys a critical capacity with the submarine cable and international connectivity. This gives us availability of the resources to take the leadership, to innovate and stay ahead of the game.

Kenya is the first country in the region to set up a smart city, Konza Techno City, which is a clear demonstration of how important the sector is for our economy’s development.


Could you please further discuss how Konza City embodies the Kenyan way of thinking, and ICT’s role in the county’s sustainable development?

Konza Techno City is a flagship project of Kenya’s Vision 2030 – a long-term economic development plan for transforming the country into a newly industrializing, middle-income country that will provide a high quality of life to all its citizens in a clean and secure environment. Dubbed “Africa’s Silicon Savannah”, Konza Techno City is envisaged to become a technology hub that not only serves Kenya, but the entire East African region.

In this context, Konza’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Kenyans by transforming employment markets, enhancing social infrastructure and securing good governance.

The new city’s development strategy focuses on four economic sectors that will advance technology growth in Kenya: education, life sciences, telecoms, and information technology outsourcing and business process outsourcing. The master plan is based on the concept of high-tech ribbons of development and encompasses sustainable urban design principles.

In detail, the city will feature:
(a) a central business district,
(b) a university campus with a capacity of 1,500 students,
(c) a residential community of 185,000 people, and
(d) parks and wildlife.

The techno city is set to foster innovation and start-ups by playing host to a number of research labs and incubation centers staffed by Kenyan innovators and entrepreneurs. The potential partnerships with local institutes of higher education that the city will attract is expected to bolster ICT education. It is designed to work with universities and other technical institutions to develop and harness best skills locally and provide them with the required environment and facilities to advance their skills. The city is also set to attract international ICT firms, such as IBM, who have already established a research facility in Kenya.


At what stage of development are you currently?

We have already initiated Phase 1A of the project, which involves completion of the design for the provision of utilities, including waste water management, street lighting, water, power, and internet systems to ensure that these are laid out in the right way before any real construction begins.

Phase 1A of the Konza City development covers 60 acres of land, before development is carved out of the larger 5,000 acres. It is aimed to create an enabling environment through the establishment of a critical mass of jobs and services required to stimulate the remainder of the development.

We expect that the implementation of the project to be done in four phases, each lasting about five years. This is of course subject to the investors taking up the available opportunities, bearing that in mind we are gearing up towards attracting that necessary investment and development. The first phase, which will be complete within the next two years, will have initiated the basic infrastructure making it ready for future development.


What is your message to future investors and partners, ensuring that the project will be executed as per the plan?

We are committed to implementing Konza as envisioned in the master plan, in addition to which we have a team of international and local consultants to help us in the development of guidelines and project management that will ensure the execution is in line with the grand plan.

We continue to receive an encouraging level of interest from investors. However, the uptake of the parcels was somewhat delayed due to need to first complete the basic infrastructure to enable this. I would like to give the reassurance that we are focused on fulfilling our mandate of putting in place all the facilities required to enable development.

I also wish to thank the investors for their interest and patience.

We are also engaging with Ketraco and Kenya Power from the power sector to ensure that our supply will be green, reliable and uninterrupted, as is necessary in a smart city. Together, we will come up with new solutions and address key challenges we may face.

We are also working with the agencies that are responsible for water supply, and we have set timelines on what needs to be done for the short and long term.

Infrastructure and a robust road network are also on top on our agenda, where we are in discussions with key private and public sector stakeholders to introduce solutions to challenges making accessibility easier and traffic free, and shortening travel times by interlinking certain roads. As well, we are finalizing the design and the development guidelines that will give a direction to investors, on sustainability, compliance with standards.

It is pivotal to point out that our first current priority is to ensure future investors will have an uninterruptable, sustainable and green utility supplies.


In conclusion, what does Konza City mean for Kenya?

Kenya is a big sports house, we are the hotbed of champions, we are leading the world in athletics and world rugby sevens. We are already leaders in key economic aspects, a commercial hub for the region, a diplomatic powerhouse with a strong democracy, and an ICT hub with the continent’s key innovation happening on this soil.

However, we as nation do not want to stagnate and with a key leadership and partnership with our private sector, this nation is aiming to propel and excel. In this regard, Konza City is going to be a significant tool for this process, by creating new opportunities, innovations, changing community lives and bringing the needed extra growth for the economy. We are a powerhouse in ICT and the city will ensure that we remain that way in the long term.