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This ‘Konza Tech City’ Project is Turning to be a Very Fraudulent Idea

I have been a great supporter of Konza even when people started opposing the idea last year. There are times when even the local mainstream media could not touch it until when Ministry of Information lured them with adverts and paid assignment to promote the idea on Web, TV, Radio and Newspapers.

You must have realised this when Nation Media Group ran the Konza campaigns on their website and advertisers announcements on the Daily Nation and Business Daily newspaper. The honeymoon seems like is over as most of the very well informed ICT investors are shying away from the over 50,000-hectares Konza Technology city project.

Main reason being that the approach to build local tech capacity is wrong. Many of the would-be investors are asking why the Kenyan government need to initiate what is generally a real-estate project to build local ICT capacity. Why not use the already available schools to build the required local human resource which is currently lacking. It has nudged the likes of Safaricom and Huawei to equip the local graduates with practical skills necessary for an innovation ready society.

In the $15 Billion investment only 7 Kenyan companies have shown interest to invest in the technopolis with only Safaricom and Seven Seas being the 2 Kenyan ICT companies which have shown the interest in the whole investment idea. The others are Seventh Day Adventist Church, Kenya’s Tea Board and the University of Nairobi.

Only 40% of the initial phase of the project has attracted local investors while this was a project which was suppose to be owned by Kenyans and Kenyan companies.

Sad indeed that Kenyan government cannot con even the “not so well informed” Kenyan ICT companies that they need to jump on the Konza idea.

First the whole concept of Konza does not sit well with any sane investor secondly, the project looks like a rushed idea which Dr Ndemo and Paul Kukubo might be pushing to entice others to join in what might be the biggest white elephant.

At a recent meetup, PS Ndemo loudly complained against the Ministry of Lands for not gazetting the 52,000-hectares of land as required by law. That means that any touch of the land for the proposed development might be met with lawsuits from interested stakeholders. Dr Ndemo seemed a very frustrated man with it looking like he alone is pushing for the Konza idea and not much support from key government agencies.

The local techies are also not feeling part of the idea since even the tendering for various input into the idea has locked out the Kenyan techies. Just recently there was an announcement that 22 companies were short-listed for the planning and management of the Ksh 10 billion first phase of the Konza City idea. The 22 shortlisted companies from Europe, Asia and USA are among others

BioRegional Development Group, Capita Symonds, Crowie Holdings, Feedback Infrastructure Services, GIBB Africa, IDOM, Jones Lang LaSalle MENA, Limitless LLC, Lloyd Masika, Mentor Management, and Millenium Development, PKF Kenya, Sasaki Associates, Seven Degrees North Ltd, Shapira & Hellerman Planners (Halufa Group), Voyants Solutions Private and WS Atkins International.

The company to be awarded this tender will provide complimentary master-plan development and support to Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KTDA), which is not yet operational but it in the process of being established by the government, according to PS Ndemo. The state corporation will oversee the planning, infrastructure development and land allocation on the site.

None of the above companies is Kenya or has Kenyan roots. It might be that Kenyans are locked out because someone is forming nondescript companies overseas to get to loot funds like it happened in Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing. It is very easy for government bureaucrats to get away with corruption when they use non-existent foreign companies fronted by either themselves or their proxies. Looking at Konza City, this is what is happening.

PS Ndemo’s answer to the questions have been that there is not enough local capacity. That is a very shallow excuse considering that the foreign companies will just come to poach the local capacity which are considered mediocre.

The ground-breaking was suppose to happen in mid 2011 and there has not been a word from the PS on the same.

My opinion on Konza is that we shouldn’t struggle for it because we have the capacity but we are too disciplined to push the boundaries of innovation. We don’t have enough non-ethical hackers to crack open the existing technologies and modify them to do things differently. Silicon Valley came about because of the likes of Steve Jobs who refused to go with the army but joined those considered pirates. We don’t have enough go getters ready to take the plunge. Education is wanting but it has become just a punching bag.

With all these pointers, Konza is turning to be a fraudulent idea which might end up being a very boring white elephant. The failure of Konza will lead to many big investors give Kenya a wide berth as a key investment destination. Local ICT capacity will also get used to doing it the hard way without much input from the government. Local techies might end up being no more than spectators or cooks and watchmen in the whole arrangement.

Written by Robert

Respected Kenyan blogger, tech evangelist, and social justice activist. Robert is known for his hard-hitting articles and opinions disseminated through his Twitter handle @RobertAlai or Facebook page (www.fb.com/RobertAlai).

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