Konza City -Meet the Design Of a White Elephant Project in the name of Silicon Savannah

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Today President Mwai Kibaki is presiding over the groundbreaking ceremony at Konza City.   It said that that has to be done to pave way for the private investors to start putting up investments on the 5,000 acres of land. First I don’t think such a ceremony is necessary. Groundbreaking? What does that even mean and how is it going to help Konza City move forward. How much has the Government spent to organize the so called the Groundbreaking ceremony. How about if that money was to be used  to put up  the first structure on the land instead of wasting it on the ceremony?

I think Government putting up the first structure on the land would have been  the best way to pave way for the other investors to come in. First, it is a clear sign that the government trust what it is selling to the investors. Then there is the question of what will really attract the investors to Konza City… Is it the land ..real estate for that matter or the technology which is basically what the place is designed to be.

Technology , Silicon Savannah or what not are fancy sounding words or statements but what Konza City is offering at the moment is a site for real estate development and not Technology or Silicon Whatever.  Talking of technology, people come to Nairobi to check on what to invest in , or to do actual investment  because there are already vibrant tech activities going on. . To me that is what is attracting tech enthusiasts and investors  to Nairobi and not great buildings or unoccupied piece of land. With Konza City, you have the hen and egg situation…..yes…do you build a city then ask people to move in or ask people to move in then build  a city.  If Kenya had excess money like China, then it would have been reasonably possible to  build a city according to designed plan then tell people to move in. But in this case we have a plan designed then thrown out there to attract investors, who are expected to come in  and build the city. The question is what possible reason would tempt a tech investor to move in to Konza City when the technology guys or start-ups and the buyers are still in Nairobi?

Courtesy of @peterwakaba Twitpic

I remember towards last year there were Foreign Consultants ..yeah yeah..sent to iHub to seek the views of start-ups and the techies on what they would like to see in Konza City. Ok…first do you really need the foreign consultants to do that.., Mmmh I guess many people at iHub could have done that just for their monthly rent. That a side, Consultants were shocked at the reactions and the views of the people at iHub. It is the first time I saw techies walking out of anyone at iHub and the main reason being that  there is something missing with Konza City. The techies and the people running the start-ups in Kenya have the feeling that if there is something the Government is promising them then they should start by making it a available now. For example if you say that there will be tax incentives at Konza City, then the Government should just do that now. To them they are already running their businesses  and they are not going to wait for five years.

More than that, a city need all the parts…actually a city is a whole ecosystem. And an ecosystem would need all the parts to be functioning in order to achieve any success . For that Konza City will need to have well working financial system, up to date  health system, Residential places , Modern Transportation system and many more.  It is true that the place is designed to have everything working or functioning perfectly. According to the Konza city Website:

The components of Konza Technology City include:

  • Modern Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) Park (Flagship)
  • Science Park
  • Convention Center
  • Mega Mall
  • Data Centres
  • World-class Hotels
  • Local and International Schools
  • World Class Hospitals
  • Championship Golf Course
  • Financial District
  • High Speed Mass Transport System
  • Residential Housing
  • Superior Modern Integrated Infrastructure, Roads, Sewer, electricity and Telecommunications networks and Integrated security system, among other features

On paper..that is awesome plan. But I still have to go back to the big question and ask, what comes first the demand or the service itself. For example the Financial District, will the Equities and the Barclays of this world move in first or wait for people to move there and then they follow.From the experience , we know that the players in the Financial industry move  to where they know  there is demand for their services . At the moment I am  not sure whether the promised future success will really convince them to start constructing branches and ATMs at Konza City.

How about schools…”Local and International Schools” they say. I am already asking myself whether these will be new schools or the branches of the old ones. For example will Nairobi university move its IT School from Chiromo to Konza? If not then it seems we are talking about new colleges being started there, then the next question is, will one rather go to UoN Chiromo or the  new school at Konza?

Hypothetically if we find ourselves in a situation where the major players are waiting for the people to move into Konza City before they can follow, then what will motivate people to move there first. ..Again according to Konza website the following key sectors are expected to drive growth of Konza City:

  1. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)
  2. Software Development
  3. Data Centers
  4. Disaster Recovery Centers
  5. Call Centers and
  6. Light assembly manufacturing industries

Basically the above listed sectors should be the motivators. For me the  Call Centers sector is  a big  crap which Government should have given up on a long time ago. I mean after the financial crisis in the West, Call Centers sector, started to lose its former glory.   On top of that there is no skill sets being gained specially in Call Centers. Most people just work as data entry clerks and to answer the calls. Well, you could argue that it provides employment, which makes sense but currently Call center jobs are the most unreliable kind of job to have.  Majority of  people working in call centers in Kenya will tell you that, there is nothing to celebrate there…one day they are employed, the next day they are jobless. Very risky.The same applies to BPO , which to a larger extent rely on the foreign businesses. The local companies don’t do much  of out sourcing and therefore, to list it there as part of the key sector for me is a mistake.

Software development.. Ok..Kenyans are crazy about this especially mobile apps. The problem is , the techies at iHub did not want to hear anything to do with Konza City…so I wonder who are going to do this work at Konza City!!! May be in the long run they will move in and if you look at it that way, then Konza City is not a tech city after all.

Data centers and Light assembly manufacturing industries are well suited for the area. But even with the two, there is a small problem..apart from the people working inside the two sectors, the others around them will not be comfortable. Ok..how many people would want have their offices next manufacturing industries, however light you may call them….

I am not saying entirely that Konza City will not be successful..yes it might be but success is a relative word. And for that it might end up as more of Agriculture center than A Tech City

Finally for the today’s ceremony, if the Government wanted the attention of Local and international press on Konza City, then  President Kibaki should have just called a press conference on his Harambee Office..  We all know  that the man on the hill does not do press conferences and for that a press conference could have exited most journos around ….

What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at Kachwanya.com
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Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
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