IBM is set to open a research laboratory in Kenya, the first in Africa, in a joint venture with the government.
The facility is expected to drive Kenya’s transition to a modern services economy through research into age-old problems like traffic congestion, low agricultural productivity and slow public service delivery.
“Kenya’s vision is to become the top hub in the continent. IBM’s commitment to undertake the proposed research agenda will contribute greatly to our national priorities as part of Vision 2030,” said President Mwai Kibaki when he signed the agreement for setting up the laboratory with IBM Chief Executive Ginni Rometty.
Intellectual property in form of innovation from the facility will be shared between Kenya and IBM.
The laboratory, which will serve all local universities, starts operations next month at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
The research facility becomes the 12th in the world after those in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland and the US.
IBM laboratories have been credited for many innovations in information technology, including the invention of relational database, disk storage and DRAM memory. The company has won five Nobel prizes.
The initiative is part of IBM’s strategy to grow its dominance in Kenya and the region.
Some of the research areas that the IBM research centre will cover include next generation public sector, smarter cities and human capacity development by boosting the innovation and engaging entrepreneurs.
“We see significant growth in Africa and specifically Kenya. It makes sense to invest here,” said Tony Mwai, the country general manager at IBM East Africa.
Under the agreement, the government will contribute $2 million (Sh169 million) for the next five years, while IBM will provide the hardware, software and high-end scientific expertise.
Speaking at the press briefing, the IBM vice-president, Dr Robert Moris, said: “I don’t have the exact amount of what IBM will invest in the lab, but it is a significant part of our research investment which is $ 6.5 billion.”
Kenya’s contribution will be spent on utility bills and paying local researchers. The facility is also expected to create employment opportunities for the youth.
“We spend a lot of resources on business process outsourcing to create few jobs, now we can create jobs here locally and we may start looking into the other African countries,” said Information PS Bitange Ndemo.