Technology

Konza revving up as investors jostle for piece of smart city

konza

An Artistic impression of the Konza Technopolis Park in Malili. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • Dubbed Africa’s Silicon Savannah, the Konza Technopolis was gazetted as a Special Economic Zone – the heart of innovative solutions for ICTs, business, health and education.
  • The town within the vast plains on the boundary of Machakos and Makueni counties, and locate roughly 70km south-east of Nairobi, had all the ingredients of an investment hub.

After a lengthy lull, the Konza Technopolis is roaring back to life, triggering a scramble for property in the smart city on the busy Nairobi-Mombasa Highway.

Mooted in 2008 by the government, the idea of creating a technological city complete with its infrastructures, and all the essentials of a technopolis, promised a unique opportunity for the country to seize a substantial amount of the growing global Business Process Outsourcing and Information Technology Enabled Services (BPO/ITES).

Dubbed Africa’s Silicon Savannah, the Konza Technopolis was gazetted as a Special Economic Zone – the heart of innovative solutions for ICTs, business, health and education.

The town within the vast plains on the boundary of Machakos and Makueni counties, and locate roughly 70km south-east of Nairobi, had all the ingredients of an investment hub: proximity to the already robust tech industry in the capital city, a good terrain for commercial activities, infrastructure connectivity and ideal weather conditions.

Commissioned in 2013, the technopolis is billed as a world-class technology and innovation hub. It is expected to host data centres, with the National Data Centre (Phase I) being already complete, technology facilities, urban amenities and a mix of business enterprises, and premises that house companies, employees, and residents, when complete and in full operations.

Property development – both residential and commercial, universities, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions and schools, hospitals, research and development facilities — are key selling points that the Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA) banked on to woo investors to their project. So are ICT facilities, light manufacturing and industries, retail establishments, hotels and convention centres, entertainment facilities including stadiums and cinemas, utilities such as energy and water, as well as infrastructure and logistics.

This strategic location of the tech city makes it ideal for a wide range of investments.

“Konza is essentially a commuting distance from Nairobi as well as Makueni, Machakos and Kajiado counties,” says Sharlene Mutinda, the managing director of Ntashart Investment, one of the pioneer property dealers in Konza.

What makes the city attractive, Ms Mutinda tells Digital Business, is its weather and good soil which she says makes the area good for both commercial and residential developments as well as agriculture.

Minimal activity at the technopolis’ site in the early years, however, cast doubt on the entire development, with some critics labeling the grand dream a white elephant in the making.

All this has, however, changed, with the smart city now appearing to rev up. Considerable development projects are taking shape, revitalising the tech city.

In the recent months, regional and national leaders have made visits to the city and called for even speedier development of the tech town that promises many job prospects.

Just last month when he visited the futuristic city accompanied by 10 members of parliament, Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka urged the government to acquire more land for expansion, saying the current 5,000 acres the project was sitting on would be insufficient in coming years.

He similarly called for more resource allocation for the project noting that it will transform the region’s economy.

Konza Technopolis CEO John Tanui, on his part promised that when complete, the technopolis will be one of the best-designed cities in the region, and will homes possibly the largest data centre in the region.

“We are similarly building a total of 170km storm-water drainage and water supply lines as well as an automated and pressurised 15km system of solid waste management,” said Mr Tanui, when Mr Kalonzo visited the site.

He said the initial two phases – which host the data centre and offices – were nearing completion.

As Konza takes shape, investors of all stripes are trooping in, seeking to acquire a slice of the smart city which mirrors developments across the continent such as Eko Atlantic in Nigeria, Hope City in Ghana, Waterfall City in South Africa, Vision City in Rwanda and Ethiopia’s The Real Wakanda.

As of last year, the technopolis had attracted over 40 firms that had applied to establish investments in technological ventures, a factor which ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru says lays a strong foundation for establishing a smart city.

“We have different partners who are already setting up their vertical infrastructure which includes universities, hospitals and accommodation facilities,” Mr Mucheru said.

The Covid-19 pandemic, he noted, had delayed some of the work, but added that activities at the site have now regained momentum.

Experts say a number of factors make the area an ideal spot for investment in other sectors including real-estate.

The proximity of the area to other towns including Kitengela, a rich hub of horticulture practices, and its numerous educational institutions is a plus for potential investors, given that there are planned direct routes from Konza to Lukenya, Konza to Kitengela, and Konza to Isinya among others.

The beginning of the construction of the Nairobi Expressway that runs from Mlolongo to Westlands, has also raised hopes of easing the traffic on the key highway. Coming on the back of the dualling of the Machakos-Athi River section, this has made Konza an attractive destination for investors and prospective homeowners.

Ms Mutinda says areas around Konza are now real estate hotspots.

“We have in recent months seen a spike in the number of buyers of our property situated only three kilometres from the Nairobi–Mombasa Highway,” says Ms Mutinda, whose firm also manages properties such as Malik Heights, executive office suites on Ngong Road, Nairobi.