This is to be modelled on technology parks such as Smart Village in Egypt.
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The Government has donated 1,000 acres of land on which a technology park will be built. This puts Kenya ahead of its East African peers in having such a facility, which is expected to attract investments and enhance the country’s Information Communication and Technology (ICT) sub-sector.
“Technology park” is a term used to describe a variety of efforts to stimulate the development of entrepreneurial, knowledge-based small and medium-sized enterprises within a particular zone. The park is usually linked to educational or research institutions and provides infrastructure and support services for businesses, mainly office space. It also performs technology transfer and economic development functions.
All core functions and support services take place in very close vicinity, making the technology park a mini-city of sorts. The term technology park has over 10 synonyms, with the most common being science park, research park and technopole.
Apart from donating land, located at Athi River, Kitengela area, the Government will put up the necessary infrastructure like water, electricity and roads as a first step in luring investors. But Mr Gikonyo Gitonga of CB Richard Ellis warns that it will have to do more to attract quality business enterprises.
Rival Africa's best
“Due to competition, the techno-park must have quality residential areas, entertainment spots, shopping malls, sport facilities like a golf course, among others, to make it an attractive place to work,” says Mr Gitonga.
He says the park must ensure people will not only set up businesses there, but also live in the neighbourhood as is the case in other countries. Information and Communication minister Mutahi Kagwe says the area will be equipped with modern technology to rival some of Africa’s best.
Countries that have embraced the concept with success include South Africa, Egypt and Mauritius. They boast parks that host companies dealing in services ranging from biotechnology, ICT and electronics to health care. South Africa, the continent’s economic powerhouse, is the most advanced in the sector, with five technology parks.
The ministry wants to target businesses that deal in outsourcing, which has grown into a billion-dollar business world-wide. Outsourcing is where an organisation transfers its non-core but critical business operations to an external enterprise. Many multinationals in the West are outsourcing some of their services to companies in developing countries to cut on production costs.
The three factors that companies look for before outsourcing operations are cost and quality of labour, ease of communication and stability. Mr Kagwe says Kenya has most of these qualities. “What we need to work on at the moment is improve our telecommunication sector to make it more attractive.”
Fibre optic cable
Mr Kagwe and his Permanent Secretary, Dr Bitange Ndemo, announced that Kenya will go it alone in constructing an underground fibre optic cable to link the country to the rest of the world. According to the two, the Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASSy) – a Sh15 billion project involving 13 countries – whose aim is to link Africa to the rest of the world, has taken too long.
Dr Ndemo says many companies from Europe and Asia have expressed interest in investing in the country, but are holding back due to the poor communication infrastructure. “If the underground cable reaches the coastal waters it will open more avenues in ICT and that is why we are pushing for it,” he says.
The lack of neither intra-Africa nor direct access to international fibre networks has made East Africa solely dependent on satellites. Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA) chief executive officer Albert Gumo, who is also involved in the project, encouraged local investors to take advantage of the opportunity.
Mr Gumo says the project is being developed a stone’s throw away from the EPZ to enable investors enjoy incentives offered to companies operating in the zones. “Some of the benefits to be enjoyed are exemptions from various taxes and quick processing of work permits for foreign employees,” he says.
Mr Gumo said the EPZA had signed an agreement with the Kenya Power and Lighting for uninterrupted power supply even in times of shortage.
In the meantime, the Government, seeking to boost Internet access, is to waive licence fees for Internet service providers who invest in rural areas.
From a Blog
A breakfast meeting was held today to discuss plans for a multi-media technology park to be located in Athi River / Kitengela area. This is one of the key milestones in the ICT policy, which was approved by the Cabinet, but is yet to be passed by Parliament.
The multi media park is to be modelled along the likes of Egypt’s Smart Village and Ebene in Mauritius.
Microsoft has already signed up to be the first tenant of the park and has offered to assist in its design.
The first park may be hosted by the Export Processing Zone Authority on their 1,000 acres in Athi River. In addition to tax benefits, the zone already offers various benefits including, cheap rents, easily obtainable immigration permits for companies (guaranteed for general manger, technical manager, financial manager and 2 directors), connected with fibre optic cable, and guaranteed electricity supply from KPLC.
Athi River/Kitengela is close to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and over 20,000 new housing units are being built in the area. Some major problems facing the area are water shortages and traffic congestion. But the traffic problems could be alleviated by the (soon) construction of dual carriageway road from Machakos to Nairobi and removal of the mlolongo weighbridge to a location further down Mombasa road.