Interview: How Kenya plans to become Africa’s ICT hub by 2017

So what is the government doing to encourage Kenyan participation given that some CEOs of leading local technology companies are criticising the project?

They will come round. I think criticism is okay. We are doing a lot in creating awareness. One area being looked at is structuring financial incentives for local participation. The financial instruments are already being discussed. The second issue is capacity building. The Kenya ICT Board has launched a local incubator and issued grants to entrepreneurs. We have also been doing training and we are working with universities to improve their training. There are two ways to participate in the project: you must have the skill, or money.

What challenges should Kenya expect before Konza City becomes a reality?

Some of the challenges will be politicians keeping focused on it, especially after the elections. They will need to stay the course and not waver. The amount of political will it takes to keep to a project of that size is very important. Fundraising, to get the money that is needed and also getting the right international partners in terms of investors, will continue to be an issue. This can be surmounted by how we package it and right now Kenya is in a very good place.

Upon complete implementation of the master plan in 2017, what will Kenya’s ICT industry look like?

We will have about 20 new innovations that are globally propagated and 100 local. We want an ICT sector that generates $2 billion into the economy. We want 500 ICT companies that are tier-one and 50,000 new jobs. We will see 60% automation of all SMEs, a 25%-plus impact on GDP and 50% productivity gain for the ICT sector.

A lot of these goals depend on other people. How will you ensure entrepreneurs, for instance, align to this plan so that we can get those 500 tier-one companies and create 50,000 jobs?

It is all about education, re-training and skills. Some of it is not us as a government. Some of it is just working with colleges and universities to ensure they focus on the right curriculum. Some of it is just introducing new courses like data science and establishing research labs.

Entrepreneurs may be good at writing code, but tier-one companies are built using business skills. That is still a weak area here, any plans to address this?

That is not a problem just here, it is a problem all over the world. That too can be taught in schools or through mentorships, incubation and partnerships. Even on the money issue; the early stage funding environment in Kenya has improved substantially in the last five years and you can see the interest from investors.

How much will the implementation of the master plan cost and how will it be financed?

[It will cost] billions of dollars. That is what you need to create jobs. Jobs are not created without spending money. The plan will be financed through a combination of [a] public and private sector effort, it’s just about alignment. If you dig a ditch which nobody needs, you don’t create a job, but when you dig a hole to bury an undersea cable, then you create a job, because cable gives you bandwidth.