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Kenya breaks ground on "Africa's silicon savannah"

posted 24 Jan 2013, 05:07 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Jan 2013, 05:09 ]

Kenya's mushrooming internet and mobile phone penetration has inspired a government initiative to build an IT focused city called Konza. Authorities have just broken ground at the project, which is expected to take 20 years to complete but it is already being touted as Africa's silicon savannah.

KENYA ICT BOARD - Kenya broke ground on a proposed high tech hub that is being promoted asAfrica's answer to America's Silicon Valley on Wednesday (January 23).

Located 70 KM from the capital Nairobi, the project dubbed Africa's Silicon Savannah will be constructed on a 5,000-hectare plot of land at a cost of 14.5 billion US dollars.

The IT 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.

Partners in the development say Konza is set to be one of the most successful cities inAfrica and is expected to compete with the best cities in the world.

"If we start with Africa we are already at the top three… probably after South Africa andEgypt 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," said Eunice Kariuki, Deputy CEO of Kenya's ICT Board, which is overseeing the project.

Konza is part of an ambitious government plan to develop infrastructure in east Africa's biggest economy through an initiative known as vision 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 is among the fastest growing with 29.7 million out of 40 million people having mobile phones as of October 2012, CCK data showed.

"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," said Kariuki Gathitu a tech entrepreneur in Nairobi.

Innovation centres in Kenya like iHub and mLab 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," John Kieti a manager at mLab said.

Konza developers say the city will provide, universities, science parks and establish a modern living facilities that cab attract high calibre 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.