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Kenya’s Silicon Savannah dream feasible

I dared dream that one day we shall conquer the world with tech innovations that would transform society. To realise the dream, the Konza Technology Park was going to be the vehicle.

Many people locally and internationally are asking if we are on the right track. With the recent Cabinet reshuffle, I saw light at the end of the tunnel. That day is certainly coming.

The nomination of Joseph Mucheru as our new Information, Communication and Technology secretary is a giant step towards ICT-enabled transformation.

Incidentally, when Joe travelled to Silicon Valley to meet with Google chiefs, I was with him. He saw Palo Alto, liked it and joined Google as their Africa representative.

He therefore knows a lot about techno cities and what they are capable of doing to a society like ours. He is one Kenyan who understands the Konza concept and its aspirations to realise a technology ecosystem in Africa, to build a technology capacity, to create and innovate.

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To complement that dream, we now have a principal secretary (PS) dedicated to ICTs and Innovation. The new PS nominee, Victor Kyalo, with his former boss at the ICT Authority, Paul Kukubo, were the behind scenes architects of Konza.

They saw the need, they desired it, and they incubated and created it. Now the ICT secretary and the principal secretary have a chance to realise what we all desired in the ICT space in this country.

The chief executive at the Konza Technology Authority, John Kipchumba Tanui, has been consulting widely and he has what it takes to see through the implementation of this critical infrastructure whose overall objective is to provide an ICT ecosystem that would transform society.

This is one reshuffle that is likely to have a profound positive impact on the local ICT sector.

There is need, however, to pass all the enabling legislation. The success of Konza was predicated upon the passing of the laws that created the authority and giving incentives to investors.

As was evident when we were building the undersea cables, there will be many doubting Thomases. There will also be procurement challenges, but we must continue to take measured risks and keep our eyes on the prize.

ICTs can reduce the burden of unemployment in this country. ICT-enabled transformations are beginning to enhance productivity in virtually every sector. For the first time, the youth are trooping back into farming, driven by technology.

An ideal technology ecosystem nurtures young people into becoming successful entrepreneurs. To fuel innovation, key legislation in Open Data and data protection is needed.

Innovators want data to create and the government generates tonnes of data daily. For example, the security cameras dotting the entire Nairobi and Mombasa are a major source of innovative solutions that would benefit not just the government but also insurance companies and citizens.

It is possible to develop a software that will continuously track vehicles that do not carry insurance or have fake insurance by leveraging on the cameras.

Kenya Revenue Authority would also be able to tell which vehicles on the roads have not renewed their road licences. We shall, therefore, limit innovation if data is hidden from those who need it most.

Konza is meant to be home to tech shops that would train and incubate manufacturing startups that will possibly interest multinational manufacturing companies to outsource their engineering production to Kenya.

This where we need to provide post university intensive training programmes and instill discipline that would make our graduates employable or able to set up their own enterprises. We must rise up and take advantage of our demographic dividends.

A feasibility study we did in 2009 showed that Kenya had many advantages that could easily differentiate it from other outsourcing destinations like India and the Philippines and thus make it a suitable choice for corporates looking to outsource their business processes.

After the study, we received four serious entities that wanted to relocate their operations from India and Europe. All they wanted was that we pay for their relocation or their rent for one year and they relocate more than 10,000 jobs to this country.

We were inspired and sought to lease the Sameer Business Park. What followed was a circus after cartels infiltrated the deal and wanted in on it. We were forced to abandon the deal and concentrate on Konza.

The best strategy still is the use of public private partnerships to execute some of the local outsourcing requirements but the private sector must eradicate their false “mister clean” attitude and deal with the government fairly.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.

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