The Konza Tech City Project is undoubtedly an ambitious project driven by a desire to catapult Kenya to the forefront of a technology renaissance. The idea of a city designed and built with the ethos of fostering a collaborative atmosphere of information technology that serves as a basis for business, research and development and education is truly an idea whose time has come.
Perhaps, first, some context.I co-run a software company specializing in development of financial software and tools for the finance and investment sectors. My clients are banks, fund managers and private equity firms. This is a highly specialized industry requiring a lot of domain knowledge in financial instruments. My chief competition, I find, is foreign firms, chiefly in Europe and South Africa. These firms tend to be larger firms in terms of staff and capacity. In other words, even before we get out of the gate, I am an underdog. For local companies, when sourcing software from abroad, support and maintenance becomes a key issue because getting issues resolved requires flying in personal and accommodating them, which means an additional factoring in of costs and delays due to issues such as accommodation, logistics, visas and travel. This is over and above the costs and delays due to feature requests and bug fixes.
So enter Konza.Konza is about 60km from Nairobi. I am being encouraged to take up space in Konza and move my company operations there. My first problem is getting to Konza. Currently, my office is a 5 minute drive from my house. Similarly, my staff is at most 30 minutes away from the office. Having us to commute to Konza, in that Mombasa Road traffic, makes no logistical sense. It is argued that there will be high speed trains to mitigate this. But there is the issue of getting to the terminals. Where will they be? People will still have to commute to them.
- One of my team members is doing ACCAs on a part time basis. How will he continue to do this from Konza?
- For a youngish demographic, there are social considerations that come into play. Young men and women would like to have coffee with their boyfriends and girlfriends at Java. These boyfriends and girlfriends usually are in completely different industries. They would then like to watch an IMAX movie, after which they would like to proceed to a KFC for some chicken. How does Konza address this?Of course the other option is I could always physically move residence to Konza or its immediate environs. This introduces a new set of problems
- How will I convince my wife to move with me, and be commuting to her job in town? What about her hairdresser? Her shoe shopping? Her girls’ nights out? Her membership in various initiatives like Rotary, etc.
- What do I do about my children and their school? I want them to go to specific schools with a proven track record and opening a school in Konza will not resolve my concerns.
- What social price will I pay, given my friends (many of whom are not in IT) will necessarily remain behind? How will I participate in other initiatives I am involved in such as mentoring, iHub, etc.?
We Lack the Luxury of TimeI have no doubt the Government is sincere about Vision 2030, and that Konza will probably eventually work, given enough time.
There are many things that can be done today
- The government has embassies and staff in most countries worldwide. By virtue of their being on the ground, the staff is in touch with the political, business and social climates of their assignments. Therefore they are perfect agents to assist me when I decide to do some business development in a foreign country.
- There is much talk about the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of tax rebates to stimulate industries. This is indeed debatable. What is not debatable however is that If government told me that it would waive my corporate tax If I demonstrated that I would not pull it out as profits or dividends but ploughed it back into R&D or growth and expansion- I would jump on that opportunity in a heartbeat.
- Government could also help me meeting some recurrent costs. Rent for instance. If there was a mechanism where if I could demonstrate product development, business development, implementations and support government would pay, or subsidize my rent, that would help operations.
- There has been talk of government giving preferential treatment to local firms when it comes to tendering for government projects. Let it be on records that i am deeply against this, as it unwittingly opens the floodgates for mediocre work to become the norm, sullying the water for all. However, in many tenders there are some conditions with nothing to do to the work being sought like capitalization. These could be relaxed or eliminated so that the playing field becomes narrowed to competition on delivery.
- Government could also partner with universities to build software and projects around needs they currently have. I see a lot of wasted potential in 2nd and 4th year university projects. Instead of doing abstract projects, why not have real projects that can be rolled out to serve a purpose? Over and above creating potential businesses and solving problems, students acquire real skills in the development, support and maintenance of systems.
- The Government should also lead by example. It is disingenuous to talk of eGovernment, cloud computing, and Kenya being an innovator and that same government has police stations and marriage registries using exercise books for record keeping. We need to walk the talk. Such projects could be done under the auspices of the point above.
- Government is talking up a lot of prime real estate in the CBD. Why? That space could be better used by businesses engaged in production. Granted there are ministries and government departments that need to be there for reasons of service delivery but how many are these?