With barely four months in office at the apex of Kenya’s Vision 2030 flagship project, Konza Technopolis, CEO John Paul Okwiri sat with the Business Daily to outline his strategy as he races against time to deliver the smart city with only six years to the landmark year.
It’s just months now after you were substantively appointed to this post. What are your priorities and how would you like your legacy to look like?
Yeah, I’ve been substantively appointed since September so that’s about four months now, but I’ve been in Konza since the year 2015. So basically, from the inception of the project and the development, I’ve been here, and we’ve done a meticulous job to ensure that we are where we are today.
My priority in this new role is basically to accelerate the impact of Konza Technopolis to the country. We are supposed to contribute at least two percent of the national GDP and that’s the aim we intend to hit.
For us to achieve that, we are supposed to create an environment where the private sector can thrive. The previous management has worked on the horizontal infrastructure which is an investment by government. For us in this term, we are going to accelerate vertical development which is largely going to be led by private players.
The second priority is to enhance the digital economy by ensuring that we provide a thriving environment for innovation, with a special effort being channeled towards supporting start-ups.
You mention that the next level of growth, which will be vertical development, will primarily be led by private investors. So, what will be the role of government in that?
What the government has done is basically phase one infrastructure, we still have to replicate that in phases two and three. So, as the government has done in phase one, we will now be moving to phase two and phase three so that as the city grows organically, we will still be able to provide the necessary infrastructure.
The government will also be supporting businesses to thrive by providing the prerequisite regulatory environment.
From where you sit, is Konza still living its purpose of being Kenya’s Vision 2030 flagship project as we inch closer to the landmark year? How well has it played its model role to lead other economic sectors in helping realise the aspirations of a better society?
Konza is playing that role in terms of being the thought leader in everything with regards to innovation, technology and even investment.
When we speak of technology and innovation, Konza is providing an environment of research and development through our anchor tenant which is the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) which is going to enroll students who are seeking to undertake research in Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics at the graduate level.
The idea is to ensure that the academia, industry and government can all converge to do research and development to provide solutions to our current challenges.
The Kenyan KAIST is being mentored by the KAIST in Korea to ensure that as a country, we are able to move from the usual pillar of the economy which has been agriculture and move to the next level which is technology and innovation-led, and this can only be achieved through research.
Speaking of KAIST, we recently saw President William Ruto award a charter to the Open University of Kenya (OUK) and most people aren’t able to draw a distinction between the two. How are these entities different?
The OUK is a virtual university that offers courses in various facets of the academia, and these are basically undergraduate courses. The aspect of virtual learning offers flexibility to students as they don’t have to sit in class to be awarded degrees.
When we speak about KAIST, it’s a graduate-only university that focuses on STEM disciplines and its role is to provide a research and development environment and link the academia to industry to churn out innovative solutions to the everyday challenges that Kenya continues to grapple with.
How is the Konza dream shaping up with only slightly over half-a-decade to 2030?
With regard to Vision 2030, I can confirm that we’re actually on time. If you look at where we are, we’ve done the horizontal infrastructure in phase one, and we also have the anchor tenants that include the data centre, KAIST and the OUK. Our building is also now fully occupied by technology companies that are still coming.
All we need now is to ensure that the private investors, whom we’ve allocated parcels in phase one, are able to start the vertical development. We have about 147 parcels in phase one and over 100 have been issued out to investors.
If they are able to commence development in the shortest time, we’ll have an organic growth for the Technopolis. We now have about six years, so if a project takes 24 months, or 36 months, or even five years, it means by that time, we’ll have those companies already set up and running.
In terms of the occupancy rates, do the current numbers reflect the targets you had set out to achieve by around this time?
I can say we are where we are supposed to be. The challenges that we’ve experienced previously were related to land allocation because this being the first time that we were doing it, we needed to develop policies and the land pricing model so that we would get this approval and be able to have a criteria within which we would allocate the parcels. So that took some time, between 2016 and 2018.
Then after that, we began the process of land allocation and now we can say we’ve registered the sub-leases for most of the investors.
If we register your sub-lease today as an investor, we give you 18 months to prepare, conclude on your designs, conclude on financing for the project, resource mobilise and be able to break ground within the 18 months. If an investor is not able to do that within the period, then the land will revert back because we don’t want to encourage speculators.
Again, you cannot sell that parcel to someone else if you’re unable to develop it.
What are the land leasing charges?
It is Sh8 million per acre for a 90-year lease.