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February 2013 travel news 61
the inside edge
Steve Shelley is a management and
training consultant with his own company,
Tack International. He lives in Nairobi.
As many readers will know, I tend to take
a different perspective on things and tell it
how I see it. I don't believe in sycophancy
and political correctness. So all this hype
about Kenya becoming a major player in
the technology business and setting up a
dedicated 'silicon city' deep in Maasailand
leaves me somewhat bewildered.
Kenya's media is less free and critical than
they would have us think, but pretty well
every journalist this past month has pinned
their colours on the home team and come
out in grudging favour of the project.
The idea seems to be to build a brand new
'Technology City' around the village of
Konza some 10 kms off the main Mombasa
road and about 70 kms from Nairobi.
There will be universities, offces, factories
and housing. Five thousand acres have
been acquired for what is being various
called a 'Silicon Savannah' and 'Kenyan
So frst I ask myself, why Konza? It’s not
exactly in the middle of nowhere, more on
the edge of it. It's part of one of the few
remaining wide open spaces of rangeland,
much of which though is fenced off as
ranches. It's not terribly accessible, nor
well known. And there is absolutely nothing
there, apart from a sleepy halt on the old
colonial railway line.
The promoters say they've got interested
investors lined up but the website is less
than specifc, referring rather to unnamed
organisations and authorities from China,
Egypt and Brazil. But then the promoting
agency is none less than the Government
of Kenya, which makes it a political project
along the lines of LAPSSET (Lamu Port
and South Sudan and Ethiopia Transport
Corridor). Readers may be aware how
little deep water there is around the Lamu
archipelago. The shallow waters of an
ancient river delta are hardly the ideal
location for the country's second harbour,
but that's another story.
Another question which came to mind as I
read the press reports was why a company
like Boeing (for example) would ever dream
of doing anything so far from its markets. I
suspect they won't, but journalists liked the
idea. I mean, if you want to build a factory
to serve the emerging markets of Africa,
that’s defnitely an interesting proposition.
But at Konza?
I am sure the people behind the promoters
have done a lot of homework. And maybe
there are successful technology cities
tucked away in remote parts of the world.
But my own research throws up names
like Zurich, Singapore, London's East End,
Dublin, San Francisco and Bangalore.
What makes for a successful technology
city, or any commercial centre for that
matter? Ready access by road, rail, ship
and air. With a few exceptions, most
are on the coast, not 500 kms from the
nearest port. Sophisticated infrastructure,
particularly 365/24/7 power supplied at
steady voltage. Who can claim that in
Kenya? Even KenGen offces go dark from
time to time. And probably most important,
a ready pool of qualifed and competent
people. Employers will know how diffcult
it is already to recruit high performing
people, let alone technologists, especially
when they are required to go and live 'out
in the bush', for that is surely what Konza
will be for many years yet.
There must be a few visionaries behind
this, and all credit to them. But the nature of
commercial development is that it happens
when ideas, investors and opportunities
come together. And when you see the
development that is surely happening right
now in Kenya, it's obvious that government
doesn't need to be involved.
In fact, active government involvement -
the political project - is usually a kiss of
death. What happened to the railway, for
example? If you can't get the railway to
work, what chance do the bigger projects
If you ask people in government what are
their plans for their shareholding in the
various companies they still partly own,
they don't know. These are political, not
administrative, decisions and that means
nothing happens till someone gets an angle
on how to make some money out of it.
But after all is said and done, Africa in
general and Kenya in particular are on a
roll right now. With the rest of the world still
mired in recession, commercially, this is
the time for Africa.
As for Konza, this is how they describe
it: "Konza is set to be one of the most
successful cities in Africa, competing
economically and culturally with the best
cities in the world."
Click HERE to take a look at their website,
and see for yourself.
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