Watching a four-minute YouTube video about the Konza Techno City master plan feels exhilarating. But driving on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway past the Machakos junction paints an insipid, stodgy picture of a project chained by government unwillingness to concoct Africa’s “Silicon Savannah”.
Yet former President Mwai Kibaki’s launch of the project in January 2013 was greeted with optimism across Africa that set the tempo for local and foreign investors around Malili town. But the buoyancy faded.
One of the brains behind the techno city, Prof Bitange Ndemo, the ICT principal secretary at the conceptualisation of the idea, promised at the launch it would be up in three years.
Six years on, what can be seen at the site is a mesh fence marking the land boundary and inhibited activity inside what should be a reference point for urban cities in Africa.
Global tech companies had hinted at setting up their regional offices here but delayed disbursement of funds owing to government red tape has held them back. A major challenge has been acquisition of land with the National Land Commission’s land purchase model taking longer than expected to finalise.
This would-be ‘ICT hub of unrivalled stature’ in Africa under a public-private partnership has stalled mainly because our priorities are upside down.
The SGR project has since been proposed and implemented as we wait to create 20,000 jobs in a hub city operating under the Special Economic Zone Policy and the Special Economic Zone Act.
Where is the 10 percent funding that the government promised during the initial stages of the project?
Although the Konza Technopolis Development Authority assured Kenyans in 2017 that the project was on course, we are yet to witness tangible progress of the construction of the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
Why would the government take huge loans to invest in a railway only to make losses instead of pumping the money into technology that will see the smart city get fibre-optic links, power stations and sub-stations with an efficient waste management system?
Giving reality to utopian schemes is an uphill task for many African governments since they already have economic hurdles, such as corruption and low political goodwill, that make them struggle to provide good roads, power, food, security and water to their cities.
But we need to rethink our definition of economic progress and rekindle the dream of leading the way in the continent’s technological prowess that will foster sustainable economic development.
The ‘Big Four Agenda’ should be anchored to technological advancement if we want to achieve universal medicare, affordable housing, industrialisation and food security.
It’s time to move our Silicon Savannah in a faster but clinical pace and set the standards for Nigeria’s Eko Atlantic City that aims to house 250,000 citizens on land reclaimed from the sea.
Tech city architects are working hard to actualise Ghana’s Hope City and Ethiopia’s Wakanda City but Kenya is providing the literature review for their proposals. Let’s give the continent hope.
And hope is not just optimism; it’s identifying the challenges in our Konza experience and eliminating them to pave the way for an urban city that attracts investment in 2019.
More dilly-dallying will only see Rwanda’s Kigali Innovation City, launched in 2015, leapfrog us as the trusted centre for technological innovation while our dream turns into a huge white elephant.
Mr Ngila is the online sub-editor for ‘Taifa Leo’ newspaper. [email protected] @faustination