Kenya is looking to become one of Africa’s high growth economies and has blueprints such as Vision 2030 whose target is to create a globally competitive and prosperous nation based on three pillars: economic, social and political governance. The economic pillar of Vision 2030 seeks to improve the prosperity of all regions of the country and IT enabled services are among the six verticals identified in this regard. As outlined on the Vision 2030 website, “The aim is to provide superior telecommunications infrastructure, easy access to international transport facilities, and affordable and readily available energy which are critical for a competitive BPO industry.”
The concept reads well, but a recent poll on social media on what the feeling on the ground was about Konza and its promise drew mixed reactions. There were two schools of thought that prevailed, both with very poignant arguments; considering that the technopolis is projected to cost Sh800 billion.
Wrong side up?
The first is that we might be getting the approach wrong and building an ecosystem the wrong side up. This can be aptly summed up by – “If you want to build a great soccer team, invest in great players, not a massive stadium”. The argument here is that we already have what it takes in-terms of infrastructure to take IT related services to the next level and the real need lies in empowering techpreneurs to create and scale innovative services – growth capital that will see them increase “exportable value”. There is also the concern of capital flight when inviting the global players in, who will create jobs but ultimately the revenue is repatriated.
Many pieces to a puzzle
The second is that there are both macro and micro economic elements that must be taken into consideration when planning for the growth of an economy and the government-techie priorities may not be aligned. However in the larger scheme of things, the technopolis will have a spillover effect of attracting investors beyond those in construction, transport and energy and the onus is on the techpreneur to be ready to ride this wave of capital and exposure. Of note is that the funding is being sourced from outside markets and is not coming from government.
While the first line of thought is focused on the short term; we need quick wins to build confidence for the long haul. On the second school of thought, I think the Konza project champions need to break down the value proposition that the city will bring and communicate this to the different players who form the targeted ecosystem. Forums for interrogating and challenging the plans should be held – though it may be too late.
For the techpreneurs the final take was, do your thing; focus on building a great service or product and figuring out who will pay you for it in Africa. “Konza” is where your market is.