Saturday, September 22, 2012

Technology: Is Konza Technology City an Idea who’s Time has come?

Last week I attended a stakeholders meeting at iHub organized by Dalberg Kenya. This was part of their outreach programme to get the views and input of techies operating small and medium sized business entities on Konza City.
Ground Realities
What had initially looked as a good idea [I had made time to come & listen to session] quickly took another life of its own after presentation by Dalberg.  This all started when Kahenya gave his opinion that the whole idea of Konza city was a bad idea from the word go. Quickly all other techies took this line of though which brought in mind fundamental questions.
  1. Is Konza city an elite project that is being imposed on the tech community?
  2.  Does the government involve ‘ground’ stakeholders when making policies and development projects?
  3.  At what point ‘if any’ would feedback of ground stakeholders be incorporated in government projects put on paper?
View from Dalberg Consortium
Listening to Dalberg presentation one gets the impression that this is a well thought out project. Konza Tech city is a brain child of Ministry of Information & Communication and is being undertaken and underwritten with the help of International Finance Corporation.  
I have listened to the PS of this Ministry [Bitange Ndemo] and most of the IT practitioners will agree with me that this PS has been instrumental in the vibrant growth of ICT sector in this country through good leadership. However, this said, it seems Konza city might become his fall from grace with IT community depending on how he handles this matter.

Importing Development Models
The government seems to borrowing a leaf from other countries. This was the case during the presentation with Rwanda and Singapore being taunted as countries where tech cities have ‘worked’ but one begs to ask the question on why our government is keen on importing development paradigms without coming up with one itself.
  1. Is the Ministry out of thinkers or is it out of touch with the local tech scene?
  2. Why does it want to jump the gun in building a tech city out of town without addressing the needs of local start-ups?
  3.  Is this deal (Konza Tech City) a scratch my back I scratch your back project?
  4. What is the level of Political Interference in this project?
Local Problems need Local Solutions
This is what Bloggers and tech community are saying online;
@Kachwaya: Konza city is a big white elephant
@Kachwaya: Consultants and you know from where.. yes majuu are pocketing big cheque’s while teachers are earning sim sims #KonzaCity
@Kachwaya: … the government needs to just improve the road network, internet connection and tax regime
@Kachwaya: techies say let the government move out of Nairobi and go to that #KonzaCity
@Whiteafrican: Konza City’s biggest issue is location. Money would have better been spent on a 10 block ‘campus’ within Nairobi.
FYI: You can follow this discourse by using this hash tag on twitter: #konzacity

Listening on this discourse which spilled out to the social media one comes up with a few conclusions. One, local problems first need to be addressed before setting up this tech city and two, more interactions are required between the Ministry of Information & Communication with the tech community. This would be in form of roundtable conversations where the Ministry of Finance ought to be represented.
Also, the IFC needs to reconsider how input of tech community will impact on it as an institution and how it enters into contracts with government.

Other Considerations
The ground breaking for Konza city construction is scheduled soon. What the government needs to understand is that it could have a city BUT without the goodwill and building of relationships with IT community this will turn out to be ‘Konza Ghost City’.
Also, I have been privy to some research which is being conducted by scholars. Researchers are trying to document how the rapid infrastructure change our country is experiencing will affect ‘us’ as a society.

A case in point is the Thika Road Project which is magnificent but on the ground you also have a substantial majority of walking Kenyans! Also along the same high way you have the construction of Tatu City
Questions going Forward
For Konza Tech city what needs to be asked is how will our society be affected ‘if it will’ by the emergence of gated communities.
  1. Do we have studies to show impact of this gated communities?
  2. Where will other members of society who do NOT 'fit' in this models interact with this cities?

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