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Konza Technocity – Is the silicon savannah dream dead?

Friday August 16 2019

John Walubengo

John Walubengo 

JOHN WALUBENGO
By JOHN WALUBENGO
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Conceived ten years ago in 2009 by the Kibaki administration, Konza Technocity vision is to be a global technology and innovation hub along the same lines as the Silicon Valley in the US, Bangalore City in India and the Tel Aviv Smart City.

Ten years later, Konza Technocity has only one building standing.

Tucked along Mombasa road, seventy kilometers away from Nairobi, one can easily be misled into believing that the dream is dead.

It however requires a closer look to realise that a lot is happening on the ground in terms of laying the foundations of what would arguably be the smartest city in Africa.

ICTs

A smart city is one that incorporates ICTs to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation and utilities in order to reduce wastage and conserve resources.

This foundational infrastructure is being constructed and includes a national data center, massive underground utility ducts to support power, data and water cables, road infrastructure amongst others.

The estimated time of completion for this horizontal infrastructure is early 2022, but in the meantime, investors have already started streaming in and starting to put up the vertical infrastructure.

One key investor, commonly referred to as the anchor tenant is the Korean Advanced Institute Technology (KAIST).

Ranked amongst the top global research based universities, KAIST is building up a campus at Konza Technocity that is bound to attract top talent in science and engineering within the region and across Africa.

Majority of the innovations that are powering the South Korean digital economy have been built and patented by researchers based at KAIST.  This innovation culture is expected to be replicated at Konza when their campus opens up for its first intake in 2022.

Many critics have said that Konza technocity is simply an over glorified real estate project with little or no innovation component. The presence of KAIST at Konza should put this thinking to rest.

Konza has in its master plan a ‘university & research lab zone’ that expects many other local and international research institutes to locate their research and development labs and activities.

Supported by world-class or smart city utility infrastructure that guarantees stable power, high quality internet broadband, excellent amenities including schools, hospitals and shopping complex  amongst others, Konza Technopolis is expected to attract and retain top science and engineering talent across the globe.

'INNOVATION BELT'

Other critics have argued that the Silicon Valley in the US grew progressively and organically in terms of reaching its critical mix of researchers, innovators and venture capitalist and hence an attempt to reconstruct this experience in the middle of nowhere is bound to fail.

They suggest that the government should have instead invested and expanded the ‘innovation belt’ currently located along Ngong Road featuring the likes of the Nai-Lab, i-Hub, Gearbox amongst others.

This argument however misses a point, which is that a true Triple-helix model of innovation is where Academia, Industry and Government not only meet, but also co-existing in time and space.

In other words, the three actors should be resident in the same location since ideas can be forged not just during working hours, but also after hours when various actors connect after hours over a cup of coffee or a mug of beer.

In other words, Konza Technocity would offer such an environment where researchers, investors and government bureaucrats can live, work and play within the same vicinity - providing to a longer window of opportunity and ideas to be triggered and matured.

The Silicon Savannah dream maybe taking some time to be realised, but it is definitely not dead.

Long live Konza Technocity.

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