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Kenya launches launches Konza City

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On Wednesday, 24th January, President Kibaki launched the Konza Technology City setting the stage for construction work to begin.

Dubbed as “Africa’s Silicon Savannah” Konza city is set to be one of the most successful cities in Africa, competing economically and culturally with the best cities in the world.

The city, located 60 kilometers from Nairobi on the border of Makueni and Machakos counties, will be constructed on a 5,000 acres piece of land.

Once completed, the $14.5 billion project being driven by the Ministry of Information and Communications is expected to attract sufficient investments to create over 20,000 direct jobs by the end of the year.

Rather than echo a smattering of tech parks and business centres starting up on the continent, Kenya envisions a broader city-from-scratch to bring research universities, industry and government together, along the lines of Silicon Valley.

The components of the city will include a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) park, science park, mega malls, convention centre, data schools, world class hotels, international schools, world class hospitals, championship golf course, financial district, high speed mass transport system, residential housing among other high class developments.

“We want to use that to incubate start-ups,” says Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary at the ministry of information and communications, who conceived and lobbied for the project against naysayers.

Konza city is to be built in four phases over a span of 20 years with phase one to be completed by 2017 at a cost of Sh209 billion.

The government will spend an initial $210m building the basics – water, energy, sewerage, roads – and hopes the private sector will take over after that, building offices, homes, universities and data centres in line with a state-led master plan. The first $3bn five-year phase envisages housing 30,000 people.

The Government has already put in place the required Information Communication and Technology infrastructure that include both submarine and terrestrial fibre optic cables to make Kenya the I.C.T hub of Eastern Africa. Currently, the country has four undersea fibre-optic cables for high-speed internet, which could rise to seven by the end of the year.

Information and Communications permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo said “We are excited to finally launch this development, though it has come later than we initially expected.”

“Convention centre park will be the first, so that people can be able to even have meetings when they come here. This may be on a about 200 acre piece of land,” said Todd Sigaty, Event Director at Shop Architects, a New York based firm which has done the Konza City design.

Asian investors, especially from China, were mainly interested in construction while their European and American counterparts were more interested in the data processing business.

14 companies, including China’s Huawei, Canada’s Research in Motion and Korea’s Samsung, are ready to work with developers to design and build their plots. Others are hanging back until after elections slated for March 4.

Designers say the scale of the project compares with creating another Manhattan, central London or inner-city Beijing.

“This is a globally significant project,” says Todd Sigaty at SHoP Architects, which leads the design team for the master plan and has previously designed Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which opened last year.

The Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KOTDA) has been given  the responsibility to ensure success of Konza city.

According to Information Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio, the Authority, which has limited number of employees, would rely on outside consultants to execute its functions.

“As Konza grows, the Kotda will add personnel, and building capacity until it is a full-fledged organisation, with strong business development and real estate development skills,” explained Poghisio.

The minister said Konza would be a developed city towards the end of the expected 20-year build-out period, whereas Kotda will transform into a city management authority.

“Kotda will also control operations and development within the city and its surroundings (the buffer zone), formulate and enact policies to regulate the growth of the new city, which is expected to be launched on January 23,’’ he added.

“Konza Techno City will operate under the Special Economic Zone Policy and the Special Economic Zone Act that the Government developed in order to deliver a targeted 200,000 jobs. Both the Act and the Policy present a package of incentives for local and foreign investors  including  various tax exemptions and holidays..

Already companies such as Google and IBM are looking beyond South Africa for regional headquarters and Kenya is benefiting.

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