An African Silicon Valley? Pitfalls and Promise on Kenya’s Silicon Savannah

Kenya’s Silicon Savannah is the darling of development agencies and one of the prime go-to examples for business and entrepreneurs around the globe.

In Kenya’s Silicon Savannah one can pick and choose cases that demonstrate just how countries can leapfrog technological stages and catapult themselves into the ranks of techie superpower stardom. Yet are the glitz and accolades really in order? And do Kenya’s efforts to reproduce a Kenyan Silicon Valley on the savannah by building tech cities and innovation hubs stand a chance of succeeding? Or are they simply white elephant projects of venture capitalists and government development agencies?

To answer these questions this article takes a comparative approach and explores the building blocks of California’s Silicon Valley. It also identifies and analyses what Kenya and Kenyans have done right to achieve a nascent Silicon Savannah in East Africa and what impediments exist to achieving this vision.

Konza Tech City has been characterized as the centre of “Africa’s Silicon Savannah” and will reportedly host Kenya’s IT hub as well as business process outsourcing (BPO) ventures, shopping malls, hotels, international schools, a science park, a convention centre and a health facility project and cost an estimated KES 14.5 billion to 1.2 trillion. This may sound good but it is absolutely unnecessary for a country that has burnished its IT hub credentials without any such nonsense.

According to a 2013 article published in Slate, Silicon Valley’s development had just as much to do with chance and timing as actual policies and vision.

However some four factors have been identified that may have played a key role: one, access to easy research money; two, access to easy start-up money; three, mobility of the entrepreneurial workforce; and four, patience by government, business and people for results. Yet even if these key ingredients can be reproduced in a place like Kenya, Silicon Valley also came about as result of trends that stretch back over 100 years.

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