News

    Kenya Plans 'Silicon Savannah' to Build on Tech Growth

    Jeremiah Murimi, a Kenyan electrical engineering student demonstrates how a 'smart charger' connected to a bicycle powers a mobile phone at the University of Nairobi. (File Photo)
    Jeremiah Murimi, a Kenyan electrical engineering student demonstrates how a 'smart charger' connected to a bicycle powers a mobile phone at the University of Nairobi. (File Photo)
    Gabe Joselow

    It is hard to escape the images of “Konza City” in Kenya.  Advertisements promoting the future high-tech hub, or “technopolis,” appear daily in the country's newspapers and show regularly on the state television network.

    The ambitious plan is the work of Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the permanent secretary of Kenya's Ministry of Information.  A scale-model in the corner of his office shows off the grand scheme.  Konza City will have its own international financial district, office buildings for technology companies and innovation labs, as well as manufacturing plants, artificial rivers and eventually homes, schools, churches and mosques.

    The Kenyan government bought a 2,000-hectare plot of land for the project about 60 kilometers from the capital, and is now seeking to hire a master developer to find investors and arrange the construction.  The project will come together in two phases and will take about 20 years to complete.

    Inspired by his visit to Silicon Valley in the United States, the home of the U.S. high-tech industry, Ndemo says the project aims to attract international investors who either cannot find space in overcrowded downtown Nairobi, or who cannot find buildings that meet their standards.  Underscoring the urgency of his point, on the day he spoke to VOA, a blackout had hit downtown Nairobi and the building housing the Ministry of Information was running on a back-up generator.

    “It doesn't take much to understand this project if you have lived here longer, because working in the city center here is such a mess,” he says.

    Silicon Valley in Kenya?

    Promoting the information technology (IT) industry is one of Kenya's key development goals in the coming years - part of an ambitious agenda known as Vision 2030.

    “We said, 'why don't we do a Silicon Valley here,' which has all the facilities such that when you get to work you know you would have power, you would have water, you would have electricity,” says Ndemo. “Konza City will be the first smart, green city in Africa.”

    Kenya's IT industry has been on a major upswing in the past few years, driven largely by advances in mobile phone technology. The World Bank says mobile phone subscriptions in Kenya rose by more than 25 percent between June 2010 and December of last year, while Internet users increased by 60 percent. Kenya is also the birthplace of the world's first mobile money transfer service, M-Pesa.

    As in the original Silicon Valley, much of Kenya's homegrown innovation is taking place inside small tech communities and social groups.  The most well-known is called iHub, a meeting space, coffee shop and workshop in Nairobi where software developers, engineers and other creative minds come together to brainstorm new ideas.

    In a sense, Konza City is an attempt to capture the creative community spirit on a larger scale and to include some light manufacturing capacity as well.  Erik Hersman, the founder of iHub, is cautiously optimistic about the plans.

    “I think it is viable, but its not just about building it and they will come.  It's providing all the other incentives that are needed to make it a really attractive location,” he says.

    The other challenge, Hersman says, will be keeping it “tech focused.”  He says that when developers get in there “they're going to start selling space to whoever will pay them.”

    Konza City is expected to cost about $10 billion, which will be funded mostly through public-private partnerships, with the Kenyan government footing up to $1 billion of the bill for new infrastructure.

    Who Will Come?

    Some major technology companies have announced plans to expand their businesses in Kenya.  The U.S.-based computer company IBM announced plans this month to establish an innovation hub in Nairobi to increase its exposure in Africa.  In February, Finland's Nokia said it too would fund a research center to support local developers.  Ndemo says companies like these have expressed interest in Konza, but it is a little too early to say who, if anyone, has actually committed.

    The general manager for Microsoft in East and Southern Africa, Louis Onyango Otieno, has been on the job for 15 of Microsoft's 16 years in Nairobi.  He fully supports the idea of Konza City, but says Microsoft has not decided whether it will buy in.

    “We haven't got to a point where we're sitting back and saying 'Are we doing that or not?'  We're pretty much doing what we've been doing and if that's where it goes, that's where it goes,” he says.

    Otieno has no doubt that innovation will continue to thrive in East Africa, Konza or no Konza, and says attracting investors is like collecting iron with a magnet.

    “If that facility, or that initiative is designed to enhance the goals of a private investor, it's a no-brainer, they will go,” he says.

    Konza is not the first attempt at a planned city in Kenya.  A $5 billion residential project called Tatu City was supposed to break ground last year.  But the deal has been held up in court by a lawsuit between developers and shareholders.

    Konza City was supposed to break ground in April of this year, but it will also be delayed as the government continues to look for a master developer.  It will be at least a year before the first buildings go up.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.