Konza City wakes up from slumber with new vigor, and there is hope things will be much better
Written by Odipo Riaga
The dream of having a Kenyan city in which residents think of nothing but tech, science and innovation goes back to 2008 when the government approved the creation of Konza Technology City as a flagship project for Kenya’s Vision 2030. Between 2009 and 2013 there were a lot of talk about Konza City, then the talks died. We stopped believing in the project. That’s why in February 2014 Kennedy Kachwanya penned an article in which he said Konza City was “as good as dead”. And indeed the story of Konza City went dead thereafter, only to be resurrected in June this year when parliament approved a Kshs 40 billion for the construction of horizontal infrastructure for Phase 1 of the city.
Phase 1 of Konza City is the non-organic Phase whose development and growth is being artificially engineered – most of which are meant to act as catalysts for organic growth of other phases. Upon competition, Phase 1 is expected to have office spaces, a University that follows the design of Korean Advanced Institute of Technology (KAIST), Life Science research centre, a referral hospital, hotels, other schools, retail malls, and residential houses.
The nuclear of Phase 1 is Phase 1A, and for this phase there is an 8 story building whose construction is already underway (see image below) particularly meant to provide commercial offices, a shared office for tech innovators that will occupy an entire floor, and other crucial services meant to service the team that will be constructing the rest of Phase 1. The building is being constructed at a cost of Kshs 3.2 billion and should be through and ready for occupation by April 2019.
To ensure that the rest of Phase 1, the Italian firm Impresa Construzioni Guiseppe Maltauro (ICM) won the tender to lay the horizontal infrastructure and given three months to do so. They started the work in September 2018 and this is expected to go on until April 2022 when their 42 months shall have elapsed. Once they have finished laying the horizontal infrastructure that includes underground electricity distribution channel, fiber optics conduits, sewer treatment systems, garbage collection system, waste water treatment system, portable water distribution system, road network, etc, the other partners who want to construct their hotels, hospitals, residential houses, schools, manufacturing plants, research facilities, incubation hubs, and even the advanced technology and science university shall have a go ahead to commence their projects.
Upon completion of the horizontal infrastructure for Phase 1, the entire Konza City will have but only 8 years to be completed to meet the vision 2030 deadline. This is despite the fact that the entire Phase 1 will sit on a meagre 377 acres piece of land, whereas the entire land area of the entire city is 5,000 acres. The rate of progress basically means that only Phase 1 might be partially complete by 2030 – whereas Phases 2 through to 4 will need to target Vision 2050 at best. We cannot however overrule a miraculous accelerated growth after the completion of Phase 1 due to outlier effect.
What is becoming clear is that the rate of development of Konza City has been way slower than expected, making even some of initial partners to develop doubt and opt to invest in other places like in Rwanda’s. The slow rate of development has been blamed on the bureaucratic government processes, including procurement laws and procedures, and government’s budget cycle. It seems therefore that the initial planners (who are/were in government) did not put into consideration the very government procedures before making public pronouncements. For example in 2013 when President Kibaki inaugurated Konza City, it was pronounced that in three years – which was to be by 2016, Phase 1 of the city would be fully functional – only for the groundwork for the start of construction of Phase 1 to be launched in 2018. That’s more than 5 years in delay.
Although late, the start of construction in Phase 1 that has so far received Kshs 40 billion albeit in concessional loan from the Italian government has breathed a fresh air into the project. Practically we cannot hope for the entire Konza City to be fully operational by 2030, but we can now have a renewed hope that Phase 1 or a big part of Phase 1 will be up and running by that time. This hope is not based on thin air. On December 5th, the Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA), launched the Konza Innovation Ecosystem Forum in which Entrepreneurs, Innovators, Private Sector, and the Government together create a sustainable ecosystem for acquiring, nurturing, and realizing innovative ideas into commercial products. Part of the Ecosystem are series of hackathons that will see thousands of kids taken through the phases of creating tech products. These kids are meant to be the pioneers of Konza Innovators. KoTDA has also partnered with Machakos University, Strathmore University and Meru University where STEM students in those universities are already creating interesting innovative products meant to revolutionise the BPO/ITES sectors in the country.
With the new fond vigor, I personally have a renewed hope that Konza City will finally come through, probably not by 2030, but finally some day.