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Why Kenya's Konza technocity failed to take off

Tuesday December 11 2018

Konza Techno City

The site at Konza Techno City, Makueni County. PHOTO | FILE | NMG 

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It was touted as Kenya’s dream technocity that would create 200,000 jobs and make the country a model for other African countries in technological innovation.

Konza Technology City, launched by former president Mwai Kibaki in January 2013, was then a pet government project.


Mr Kibaki said at the launch that all had been put in place to ensure the construction of the city, located in Makueni County, was a success.

“I am telling the doubting Thomases to open their eyes wide and see what we are going to come up with,” said Mr Kibaki.

But five years later, it appears the Konza dream, one of the Vision 2030 projects that would give Kenya a Silicon Savannah to match the Silicon Valley in the US, is a case of stunted growth.


According to a report Tuesday morning by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the only visible sign of progress at the site is an unfinished eight-storey building.

“Grandiose plans, red tape and a lack of funding have left Konza … way behind schedule on its goal of having 20,000 people on site by 2020,” says the feature.

“The first building has yet to be completed on the 5,000-acre former cattle ranch five years after breaking ground, and business has shifted its focus to other African countries, like Rwanda, with competing visions to become modern tech hubs,” it adds.

University of Nairobi Associate Professor Bitange Ndemo, the architect of the grand project, was the ICT permanent secretary at the time of the Konza City launch.


Speaking at the 2013 event that was attended by President Kibaki and top brains from government and the private sector, Prof Ndemo said the project — which was conceived as a public-private partnership — had drawn the interest of both local and international investors.

“[They] are willing to commit millions of dollars in its different phases. Three years from now, it will be a different story from what you can see now,” said Prof Ndemo then.

Among global conglomerates that expressed interest in the project was Google, Huawei, Toyota, Shapoorji Pallonji Group from India, and Telemax Technology Corporation from Taiwan.

But interest from the firms has since thawed.

Speaking with Reuters, Prof Ndemo said land acquisition posed a major problem for the project.

The land purchase model proposed by the National Land Commission (NLC), Prof Ndemo said, would take years to complete.

He added that the delays made at least one deal with a German university fall through.

One of Konza’s planners, Mr Lawrence Esho, told Reuters that the government delayed in allocating funds for the project.

The government had pledged to provide 10 per cent of the Konza funding while the rest would be pumped in by private firms to build universities, offices, housing and hotels.


Mr Esho said the delay in government funding dealt the project a big blow.

“This stopped any work from starting at the site and investors may have developed cold feet as they waited,” he told Reuters.

But this may have been cured, according to Mr Abraham Odeng, deputy secretary the ICT ministry.

Mr Odeng told Reuters that a 40-billion-shilling contract was signed in 2017 with an Italian firm to build roads, water and sewerage infrastructure by 2021, funded by the Italian government.

The dilly-dallying, experts told Reuters, has made many interested parties to move on.

It adds that Rwanda’s Kigali Innovation City that was launched in 2015 is now the focus of international interest.

“The $2 billion plan, due for completion by 2020, is seven times cheaper than Konza,” says the analysis.

Read the full report by the Thomson Reuters Foundationhere.