Africa’s Silicon Valley
By: Paul Ndiho
Growing internet and mobile phone penetration has inspired the Kenyan government to build an IT focused city called Konza. The government’s initiative is expected to take 20 years to complete but it is already being touted as Africa’s silicon savannah.
An innovations revolution is unfolding in Africa and the East African Nation of Kenya is taking the lead. Young people are creating new technologies and applications that are driving the country’s economic growth and turning Kenya into a high tech hub that is being promoted as Africa’s answer to America’s Silicon Valley.
Located 70 KM from the capital Nairobi, the project dubbed Africa’s Silicon Savannah will be constructed on a 5,000-hectare of land at a cost of 14.5 billion US dollars. The I -T city is expected to be complete in the next 20 years and will create more than 20,000 IT jobs by 2015 and more than 200,000 jobs by 2030.
“If we start with Africa we are already at the top three probably after South Africa and Egypt who got into this ICT business a while before us. So we compete very well and we are increasingly competing for position number one because of the innovations, the city that we are putting in place, the government policies and investments to make an enabling environment in order for ICT business to thrive.”
Africa’s silicon savannah is part of an ambitious government plan to develop infrastructure in east Africa’s biggest economy by 2030. Africa is the world’s fastest-growing mobile phone market and was estimated will be home to 738 million handsets, or nearly three mobiles for every four of its people, by the end of 2012, according to an industry survey done in 2011. Kenya’s telecoms industry was among the fastest growing with 29.7 million out of 40 million people having mobile phones.
“Technology will largely impact Africa with mobile penetration and because of the various ways that we have skipped ahead of out predecessors in the west and so mainly because of the mobile phone and the penetration that has happened in Africa.”
Innovation centers in Kenya like iHub and mLab are helping to incubate and train developers to launch their start-ups and access markets and funds so that come 2030, Konza will be a truly Kenyan affair.
Mobile app developers come to mLab to test their young innovations, on a technical and business front. The mLab has close to 100 different types of mobile handsets used for trials.
“We don’t want a situation whereby Konza city is there there’s all that real estate and there’s all that infrastructure there but the people… the tenants of that city or the residents are being international companies.”
The developers say the city will provide, universities, science parks and establish modern living facilities that cab attract high caliber professionals to the modern lifestyle that will be created there.
The government is expected to finance 5 percent of the total cost then lease land to private investors who can build and run industries in different identified areas.