Kenya signs MoU with South Korea to aid the construction of its 1st smart city

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A new MoU with South Korea draws Kenya close to ”smart city” dream

Kenya has taken a huge step towards digital transformation after its Ministry of ICT and Digital Economy signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Korea Trade Center Nairobi (KOTRA). Kumkang East Africa Limited, EPCO Builders, and Unity Homes were among the signatories to the deal. 

Commenting on the deal signed at the 3rd edition of the Kenya International Investment Conference (KICC), Engineer John Tanui – Principal Secretary of the ICT and Digital Economy, emphasized  “the importance of harnessing innovation and emerging technologies for sustainable infrastructure.” 

Tanui also acknowledged the government’s previous efforts in readying the East African nation’s digital economy for sustainable development. “The government has played an enabling environment through various legal and regulatory frameworks to spur Kenya’s digital economy namely; The National ICT Policy, Digital Economy BluePrint, National ICT Master Plan (2022-2032), National Cyber Security Strategy 2022, Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019 and Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act 2018 among other policy interventions,” he said

Engineer John Tanui – Kenya Principal Secretary of the ICT and Digital Economy

This MoU will see Korea help Kenya to actualize several landmark projects, including 5,000 housing units in the Tatu City special economic zone (SEZ) and the establishment of a roadmap that will ensure Kenya builds 5 digital cities in Lamu, Dongo Kundu, Athi River, Sagana, and Naivasha. Part of the deal provides for creating a forward-thinking transport network in Konza Technopolis, the smart city championed by Kenya in its Vision 2030 master plan. It will be joined by smart mobility and smart driver licensing features.  

For context, smart mobility comprises electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, ride-share solutions like Uber or Bolt, vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity (ultrasonic, radar, and camera), and more. Smart driver licenses are cards bearing a chip containing the owner’s bio-data and a unique number, ensuring the driver’s history can be tracked by National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA). It was launched in Kenya in April 2018. 

Both technologies are next-gen, and as such, it explains why Kenya wants to bolster the urban offerings of Konza smart city with them. Konza secured approval as a flagship project of the Vision 2030 program, which “aims to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment.” It was launched in 2008 by former President Mwai Kibaki. 

Read also: Content creators in Kenya fault govt’s 15% tax, call for formation of union to fight exploitation

Kenya is still building its smart city     

A $5.2 billion project promising to turn Kenya into a knowledge-based economy. However, the city is yet to reach completion despite the government’s initial claim that the “Technopolis” would be ready by 2019. Its benefits cut across public infrastructure, transportation/logistics, sustainable energy, residential development, etc. Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KTDA) said it would have generated 100,000 jobs and channelled $1 billion in revenue to the nation’s economy by 2020

Ironically, Konza’s first major infrastructure was delivered in 2019 as a complex that comprised an office block, a hostel block, a conference facility, etc.  The completion date has since been shifted to 2050, with the first phase expected to be ready by 2030. By then, 20,000 jobs would have been generated. 

It isn’t the only country treading the path to a “smart city”, as Nigeria’s Eko Atlantic, Ghana’s HOPE City, and the Kigali Innovation City are three other ambitious projects. Africa’s increased fascination with digital cities is admirable, but does it translate into the end of poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity? Highly unlikely. 

Perhaps, Kenya should return to the drawing board, and while this isn’t a call for it to cancel the Konza plan, it should create more room for foreign investment in its local companies, especially startups. A smart city is a fine idea, but Kenya’s tech scene deserves more support. Kenya’s tech space is among the “big four”, an elite quartet of nations (Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa) with the best-performing ecosystems for startups. There’s room for more growth, so Kenya’s homegrown businesses need more financial commitments. 

The William Ruto-led government recently announced plans to provide citizens with 25,000 free Wifi hotspot networks nationwide. This will enable Micro, Small and Medium-sized enterprises (MSME) to tap into the potential of e-commerce. Young people are also expected to use the hotspots to access many online job opportunities. 


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