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Konza Techno City: A smart investment

The Information Technology sector is exploding, with not only the future of business but the very systems by which we run our lives to play for. As data becomes the new currency, it is a sector that any economy looking for a boost, and Kenya has now intention of missing out on the opportunity. We took a look at their long-term plans for the country, and in particular, their plans for Konza City.

Konza Technology City is designed to be a sustainable, world-class technology hub and a major economic driver for Kenya. When complete, the ultra-modern city will house a vibrant mix of businesses, residences, and urban amenities, in the aims to create a smart city that workers from around Kenya and the wider world will be desperate to work and live in.
The project is the brain-child of the Kenya Government and the Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA). The city not only designed to join the wave of smart technology cities cropping up and raising living standards around the world, most notably in India and the Middle East, but it is also intended to form a global technology hub. This hub will focus on four economic sectors that the Kenya Government feel will boost technological growth for the country: education, life sciences, telecoms, and Business Processing Outsourcing and Information Technology Enabled Services (BPO/ITES).

Konza City will be located in Makueni County, 60 kilometres from Nairobi on 5,000 acres of land formerly known as Malili Ranch. This ambitious development was proposed in 2009 as part of the Kenya Vision 2030 push. As a flagship project for the initiative, it is believed that its completion will contribute towards making Kenya a more competitive and prosperous nation, and towards the Vision’s economic aim of attaining Kenya a middle-income status by 2030. This ‘Economic Pillar’ of the Vision intends to achieve this goal by encouraging an average economic growth rate of 10 per cent per annum until this year, and is just one of three prongs to the country’s total goals (the other two being social and political).

As part of this vision, Konza will be a sustainable, world class technology hub and major economic driver for Kenya. Konza was initially conceived to capture the growing global Business Processing Outsourcing and Information Technology Enabled Services (BPO/ITES) sectors in Kenya. BPO/ITES business produced US$110 billion in revenues in 2010, and these revenues had tripled by 2015. Currently, Africa attracts only 1% of the total revenues from this growing, highly profitable industry – a fact that Kenya plans to change. To date, only a few countries in Africa are actively working to develop their BPO/ITES businesses, including South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana and Mauritius. However, there is a strong technologies industry in Nairobi, which places Kenya in a good position to explore this opportunity and change the state of play for its economy and its place in the global trading world.

Looking far ahead, the Government of Kenya hired the International Finance Corporation in 2009 to advise on the development of a smart city that could grow this and other technology industries in Kenya. Following these consultations, the Government then commissioned feasibility studies that demonstrated the viability of this plan, the focus on BPO/ITES, and its potential contributions to local economic development. The initial feasibility and concept master plan was prepared by Deloitte and Pell Frischmann, a United Kingdom based consultancy. Finally, still in 2009, the Konza Technology City project was initiated.

So what is a ‘smart city’? The latest global movement in urban planning, ‘smart cities’ are built with an integrated information and communication technology network that supports the delivery of connected urban services and allows for efficient management of those services on a large scale. Specifically, a smart city framework will integrate the following four key city services: Infrastructure services such as transportation, utilities, environmental and public safety services; citizen services such as access and participation; city services such as city information, planning and development; and finally, business services that will support the operations of the industry and commerce hub.

How will it work, though? Konza will gather data from smart devices and sensors embedded around the city, such as on roadways and in buildings. This data will then be shared via a smart communications system and be analyzed by software that delivers valuable information and digitally enhanced services to Konza’s population. For example, roadway sensors will be able to monitor pedestrian and automobile traffic, and adjust traffic light timing accordingly to optimize traffic flows.

This technology will go both ways: Konza’s population will also have access to certain parts of the collected data, which may include traffic maps, emergency warnings and information of efficient uses of power and utilities. By leveraging the smart city framework, Konza aims to be able to optimize its city services and create a sustainable city that responds directly to the needs of its residents, workers, and visitors. This is a complex system to put in place, but Konza plans to learn from the best, taking lessons from existing smart city frameworks including those in Spain, Singapore, The Netherlands and Brazil.

Phase 1 of construction for Konza City is now beginning to get underway. The first step of this phase is an Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Finance (EPCF) contract to cover the essential infrastructure development for the area, thus preparing the way for further building work. The design and supervision for the project will be carried out by engineering consultants Technital, with the financing carried out by Unicredit and the construction work itself being handled by the ICM Group. Once complete, it is expected that Phase 1 will create over 20,000 direct and indirect jobs. The development will include mixed-income housing, retail, a hotel, school, clinic, community centre, and police station. This phase and the city as a whole will be developed as a public private partnership, in which the Government will take a minimal role, thus leaving room for prosperous investment and job creation for the private sector.

Long-term, Konza is expected to house 260,000 people. This will include Kenyan professionals, and business people from further afield, hopefully attracted by the developing technology and opportunities made possible by this new hub. It is positive to see such initiative and financial investment being poured into Kenya from its government, and with the private sector wielding such control over the project, its progress will hopefully be unhindered by the country’s recently political upheaval. As many countries are realising, the private sector has a strong hand to play, both in community support and charitable efforts, and in injecting much-needed movement and innovation into economies yearning for a boost. In Konza Techno City, the Kenyan Government has given their country’s businesses a platform from which to empower themselves and create growth. Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, but once Kenya’s first smart city comes together, who knows how far the effects of this employment and investment will spread?