Sabahi (Washington, DC)

4 February 2013

Kenya: Konza City Tests Kenya's Ability to Produce Technical Professionals

Nairobi — With construction under way on Africa's first technology city, developers say they are confident about the project's success, while some industry insiders caution that there is a lack of technical expertise among citizens to staff the city.

Sitting on 5,000 acres spread across Makueni and Machakos counties, 60 kilometres south-east of Nairobi, Konza Techno City is a flagship project of Vision 2030, intended to position Kenya as a technological powerhouse in East Africa. Construction started on January 23rd and will continue in four five-year phases, financed by a public-private-partnership.

"This project is noble, one that will not only make Kenya a pace setter on the continent, but will act as a key economic driver in the country," said Eric Aligula, acting executive director for the government think-tank Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis. "But our fear is that we do not have enough skilled experienced professionals."

Aligula said universities for years have been enrolling too few students in technical courses, which compounded with the real estate boom in Kenya means that construction projects are competing for a small pool of qualified professionals.

"This may jeopardise the pace of implementation of the project," he told Sabahi.

Steve Oundo, chairman of the Architectural Association of Kenya, downplayed the shortage.

"We have 1,500 registered architects, over 3,000 engineers and 1,000 land surveyors, and I believe this pool of human resource can drive this project," he told Sabahi. "There is no reason to worry, because even the multinationals who will want to set up shop here will come along with their men to complement our efforts."

Still, some industry players fear the mega-project could be hampered by the shortage of engineering, architecture, and information and communications technology professionals.

Vision 2030 Chief Executive Officer Mugo Kibati said many technology graduates in Kenya have been working in other disciplines because of a previous shortage of jobs in those fields.

"Since the government has taken deliberate efforts to create more jobs in this field, interest in information technology and engineering has suddenly gone up," he told Sabahi. "The government has awarded charters to technology universities in Nairobi and Mombasa to train in engineering and related technology."

He said training engineers was important to the future of Konza City, and that the government would carry out campaigns in schools to encourage students to opt for science courses.

Although international workers will come to Kenya to help staff Konza City, they will complement Kenyan talents and help create a more knowledgeable workforce by sharing their skill sets, rather than compete with Kenyans for jobs, Kibati said.

Boon for development in Kenya

Konza Techno City will cost more than 550 billion shillings ($6.3 billion) to construct, Kibati said, with the government contributing 5% and private-sector multinationals footing the rest.

"Already over 15 international investors have committed themselves to setting up bases at Konza, including Google, Samsung, Huawei, Toyota and others," he said, adding that local universities, mobile service providers, software developers and a hospital have also expressed interest.

The government will finance the necessary infrastructure and undertake the master planning of the city, including attracting developers for specific land uses, Kibati said. Private sector companies will thereafter finance their own commercial developments within the city.

Kibati said Konza City is a strategic opportunity for Kenya to spur the growth of economic activities that create high paying jobs. "In addition, the government of Kenya has taken advantage of its geographical position, its status as the trade hub of the region and its competitive production costs to develop the business process outsourcing industry," he said.

He said the project is expected to create more than 200,000 jobs. Other project benefits will include the synergy and transfer of knowledge that will result from the co-location of local and international firms.

So far, the government has undertaken marketing campaigns through the local media and at eight international forums, including a New York investor conference last year, Kibati said.

Addressing investors' concerns, Kibati said a dam is being constructed to produce electricity for Konza and boreholes are being drilled to supply water, with four already functioning.

He also said Kenya is a safe environment for investment. "The threat by al-Shabaab has been neutralised and in general the Horn of Africa can be considered secure," he said, adding that he expects Kenya to have violence-free elections in March. "Investors are assured of the safety of their investments."

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