Kenya has begun building the recently dubbed ‘Silicon Savannah’ development in Konza, about 60km south of Nairobi and the project is widely expected to be a game-changer for Kenya’s $36bn economy. The country that has focused on technology as a means of economic progress, and brought the continent breakthroughs such as M-PESA and Ushahidi, has now turned it’s attention to ensuring that it is one of the main centres of Africa’s technology sector. M-PESA is the country’s mobile phone banking system which empowers people by allowing the simple transfer of money through a mobile device and has helped the previously “unbanked”. Indeed, it estimated that the service transfers the equivalent of 27% of the country’s GDP. M-PESA has seen a massive uptake in Kenya and Tanzania and has recently launched in India targeting 220m people in Eastern parts of the country. Ushahidi is an open source, not for profit project that allows users to crowdsource information via multiple channels including mobile, the web, and twitter.
Construction on the 5,000 acre piece of land in Konza, has begun in an effort to turn Konza into the most modern city in Africa. The project has been split into 4 phases, with the initial phase planned for completion in 2017. Encouragingly, it has been reported that the development is not just about attracting technology firms to the site, but is also a way of circumventing the country’s corruption, which has been deeply embedded for decades. The site is also projected to create 200,000 jobs when completed in 2030, as well as schools and universities. Konza – economically and politically a “new city” in Africa – may well act as a blueprint for further developments on the continent.
The project is a natural progression for Kenya’s aspirations to be the technology hub in Africa, and organisations such as IBM, Google, Microsoft and Intel have their regional headquarters there. Concerns however have been raised about the fact that most of the companies being formed in Kenya are based on a single app or software programme, making them economically vulnerable. In addition, despite clear progress in the technology sector, the Kenyan government still has a long way to go in addressing the country’s 40% unemployment rate.
- The extraordinary success of Kenya’s M-Pesa (mobileinthedevelopingworld.wordpress.com)
- M-Pesa arrives in India (mobileinthedevelopingworld.wordpress.com)