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Malili: Kenya’s Planned Technopolis

I’ve had two meetings with Kenya’s Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo (Ministry of Information and Communications) in the last week. Both times a certain project kept coming up in the conversation. It’s called Malili – a 5,000 acre East African technopolis – a city built up for technology firms and it’s the Kenyan government’s way of creating a regional ICT brand.

My first thought up on seeing the pictures: it looks like Dubai has come to Kenya.

Malili: Kenya's Technopolis from above

The Malili project is modeled off of other large technology and research parks around the world. One often cited in comparison is Smart Village Cairo, which currently hosts 120 companies and 20,000 professionals and they’re expecting that to increase to 500 companies and 100,000 professionals by 2012.

One of Kenya’s goals is to grow IT contribution to GDP from 3% to more than 10% in three years. This won’t happen using Malili as it’s yet to be built. In the interim, PS Ndemo has moved to secure a good portion of the Sameer Business Park, which is on Mombasa road and is almost finished being constructed. This type of space will be available for companies who eventually want to move to Malili in the future, and it also sets the stage for Nairobi being an even more prominent tech hub in Africa.

Location, Location, Location

I like this project, it shows Kenya as a forward thinking country with ambitious plans. My only misgiving is in the location. It’s 60km from Nairobi, and though the Mombasa road is much better, it’s still the most congested and prone-to-jams point on the Kenya roadway system. Yes, it will be a city all it’s own, over time, but Nairobi will still be the “place to be”, so there will be a great deal of traffic.

Proposed Malili Technopolis area

The airport sits between Malili and Nairobi, so for incoming people, it will be easier to get to than having to drive into, or through, Nairobi.

There’s a lot of discussion within the Kenyan tech community about Malili. It’s a big government project, with private sector participation, and Kenya’s track record of completing these types of big projects has been spotty (think Nyayo Car). Time will tell though, I’m of the mindset to not discount it. It’s time for us to start being optimistic about the possibilities that this country offers in technology.

Some, like the Nairobi tech community and the new Nairobi iHub tend to start small and grow from there. But, government has a different role to play, and it’s good for them to aim high and use their size to make big things happen.

Download the PDF:
Malili Technopolis overview slides – PDF

44 Comments

  1. So.. will this be Kenya’s “Silicon Valley?”

  2. With all these exciting plans in the Kenyan tech world…shouldn’t we also start thinking East African with the implementation of the common market. We should start thinking as East Africans and how these developments will benefit the whole region. e.g in the case of Malili, how about a regional tech hub?

  3. Woooow!
    First-off, I really don’t know much about Africa as a content except a little information that I learn from my Geography classes about S.Africa.

    However, to stumble upon your blog and to see the plans that Kenya will pursue has swept me off my feet, I am in disbelief. It’s a positive disbelief though, to me Kenya was always a place where I wanted to go for a Safari trip!

    I found it funny how you mentioned and compared it with Dubai – All I have to say about that is, have you seen Dubai drowning in debts? Hopefully Kenya will be wiser and will develop at a slower more steady rate? 😀

    Btw, for the bloggies, you’ve got my vote!

  4. A little bird twittered to me that the government is eyeing the sameer development much closer to the CBD along mombasa road. apparently there has been a bid put in already 🙂 The Athi river thing is a long way off if you ask me.

  5. I am with Mbugua on this one. I am more excited about the iHub and the Sameer Business Park because their chances of coming to fruition are exceptional. With the Government, I won’t hold my breath. I would rather they surprise me because as you point out, Kenya’s track record of completing these types of big projects has been wanting.

  6. Whatever the location will be, the GoK will also have to ensure that there’s a stable water & electricity supply.

    You know as a water/sanitation guy, I often get excited about the things you can achieve in this electronic business. Lakini, the environmental side requires much more user interaction and behaviour-change, and clean water and waste handling aren’t such commodities like electricity or sexy 01010101 programs. It’s great to have such ambitions though and see what’s possible. In the end, there’s nothing to lose and only to win, so why not?

    (why not = given that they won’t steal the sand for constructing all these buildings from river beds along Mombasa Road, thereyby pushing water run-off and changing Kenya’s climate; pumping water from a deeper aquifer, polluting the enviroment with extra waste and asking the French for a nuclear power plan….etc. etc.).

  7. I am in the “start small and grow from there” camp.

  8. i’m very skeptical – you know silicon valley doesn’t even have skyscrapers. The amount of money to be used in to build that city would be better served in investing in people, the minds that will create new ideas and create businesses. On the other hand i’m excited about Ihub, its simple, practical, tangible and necessary congrats to you guys.

  9. everything starts with a thought, energy is in not having to walk miles for the water and electricty will power the air conditioner

  10. I am with Louis, take some of the money and invest in human resources. Part of Silicon Valley’s success owes to having University of California, Berkley, and Stanford so close. Then add in the think tanks, and research orgs, in the area. This is why all the research (Xerox Parc), that was the precursor to Apple, and Microsoft.

    “PARC’s West Coast location proved to be advantageous in the mid-’70s, when the lab was able to hire many employees of the nearby SRI Augmentation Research Center as that facility’s funding from DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force began to diminish. The location, address 3333 Coyote Hill Road, is in the Stanford Research Park, land leased from Stanford University. [1] This proximity allowed Stanford graduate students to be involved in PARC research projects, and PARC scientists to collaborate with academic seminars and projects such as the Internet.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PARC_(company)

  11. This is extremely ambitious, which is fine, so long as the government also backs more ‘grass roots’ initiatives like iHub.

    Massive congratulations on iHub by the way, that was really exciting news and I’m looking forward to following it, and hopefully getting involved some day.

  12. Thanks for the shoutouts on the iHub everyone, the passion this has tapped in the community is very exciting to see.

    On Malili, I think it’s good for the Kenyan IT leaders (gov’t) to be ambitious. If they fall somewhere short of the envisioned Malili, but still move forward with Sameer and others, that is still a win for all of us in Kenya.

  13. What a coincidence, I just blogged about the recent trend by Nigerian state governments in developing tech parks. Like most of the commenters here, I am a little bit skeptical about the viability of those projects but has agreed that it is a good thing that governments are taking ICT seriously.

  14. Eric,

    This idea has nothing in it for the IT crowd. The location and vision you show scream “developer” to me – building developer. This is a favor to the land owner there, and the builders who will construct it, not software developers. Expect much money to change hands around land and buildings, but nothing to go towards actual IT people or businesses. That’s the track record for IT parks everywhere – in the USA, Europe and across Africa.

    Real innovation, real IT synergies come from iHubs.

  15. They are beautiful slides– no matter how unlikely it is that the project will happen.

  16. Great post. Thanks for keeping us in the loop!

    I think it’s really important that many Kenyan’s get involved in the discussion. Any advice on how to go about sharing your opinions on the issue?

  17. The Malili Technopolis is a great concept. Pity about the ridiculous skyscrapers, though. We don’t need those. If we can avoid them by building far from congested areas in a completely sustainable, integrated way that also works with the local communities – Kamba farmers? Maasai herders? – so much the better. Low, low, low and as shady as possible. There’s nothing creative or cool about spending hours every month in an elevator. . .
    Incidentally, these gleaming “sample projects” incorporate a waterfront area that simply doesn’t exist. Or am I missing something?

  18. Great concept.

    Malili reminds me of Canary Wharf in London. Sky scrapers built on the bank river thames just at the point in bends.

    It should work. But clearly the only way those structures shall come up is if the banks are heavily involved. Kenyan banks are growing in size regional and should have the capital to invest in Malili in say 7 years time.

    So Malili realistically should be up and running by 2030.

  19. I think what everybody agrees on is that iHub is worth the excitement because it is practical. IT is not about Skyscrapers and Fancy building but rather the basics such as access to internet for the majority of people. Developers will start making their way to the top when this money is invested in people and buildings. If iHubs come up across the country, we will be better off than having such structures in Athi River.

  20. Isnt it amazing that when the rest of the IT world is moving away from the concept of bricks and mortar building as a requirement for IT development and embracing the teleworker, and here is kenya going in exactly the opposite direction.

    Am with Louis and Wayan on this

  21. Hey, lets have a +ve look, no one ever thot of nairobi wtout potholes, highways are being done,we just need to have heads with……

  22. We develop, not them to develop, how much is an acre there, i can do greenhouses

  23. Malili is a real ‘grey-elephant’ project – someone will benefit, somewhere, just not quite those it was meant for.

    and what’s with the skyscrapers? who designed this thing?

  24. This sounds very good a discussion.
    I am afarid though its directing benefit in only one sector. What else can we do in the shortrun to upgrade the area before the skyscrappers come up? My take is development starts with human friendly activities like farming, fishing, leave alone hunting and gathering. Which of this can be done now!

  25. No surprise how njuguna, njoroge, kuria, kamau, wairimu, and the likeminded trash the fact that the project is in Malili/athi River and not Thika, Ruiru, brookeside dairies ,nyeri, kiambu etc.
    You are very selfish. This project is every kenyans joy. 40,000 jobs will not benefit Kambas only but for all from all wlaks of life. Stop your tribal thoughts and let us think as kenyans.

  26. quite a good project, but the corruption allegations surroundings it is derailing the project implementation. i think its location is super bearing in mind we need to at least de-congest the city and create more opportunities in different areas. i hope all goes well. thank you.

  27. Malili is the answer, Nairobi is a conjested city full of jams, a break from all city problems will be the answer. lets think of ways of depending on Nairobi only for all activities more cities will help. Kenya has moved ahead in many I C eg Mobile communication was un imaginable 10 years back, internet connectivety has inproved over the years let think and act positively and Kenya will be far.
    keepit up Ndemo

  28. hi it sounds good but we are yet to see its completion.

  29. This is a dream come true to our beloved country Kenya……i can’t wait for this great sense of architecture to be completed…..all the best in the project and may we live to see more of this in future……

  30. Hey! The govt got a nice idea but thats a white elephant project coz of the many big sharks around that project.

  31. Great Idea. My fellow kenyans, let us support this noble project. i have been to the site, it is in the middle of nowhere, BUT time will tell coz few years ago Nairobi was also a bush, if our grandpas had thought positively about investing in then BUSH maybe our days would be better today. Maybe ten years to come our eyes will see and that time we shall confirm.
    To me its a noble idea. We are praying for a good governace, it begins with you.

  32. Wonderful project that will catapult Kenya to the ranks of emerging economies if well implemented.This time we might succeed because we have capable people who are for Kenya to succeed, rather than stealing the Moi way.

  33. Hi,
    Development of this area of Kenya for an industrial base is a good concept as it will de-congest Nairobi and create employment to thousands of our youth.
    I think you need to fasttrack on this project as it is in line with some of the vision 2030 goals.
    Hurry up GOK.

  34. The choice of Malili for this development was a great idea
    and the remain hopeful that this will accelerate ICT development
    not only in Kenya but also in the region.

  35. Why are so many guys against the skyscrapers?I think they are cool since going vertical doesn’t consume the much needed land.The Chinese invested in these kind of cities and they are way ahead of us now.Most of Asia including Dubai itself did the same.So lets look ahead please like people ready to embrace modernity.The project is pretty great!

  36. Looking good…. Hope its really headed somewhere

  37. SAMUEL NDAMBUKI

    August 8, 2011 at 5:24 am

    the best place to invest

  38. SAMUEL NDAMBUKI

    August 8, 2011 at 5:28 am

    anyone wishing to buy a plot or either land around the ict should conduct me on 0724280201….this my home village(konza)

  39. Nice idea. i see alot of wildlife there, did they contact an EIA to finf out about the impacts. Where will all these wildbeeste, giraffe since land is being coverted to….. What is the fate of the environment? Soon the adjacent area will be turned into desert as people cut trees to feed the town with charcoal. Anybody willing to do something now before its late. I am.

  40. I like the project. It is silicon valley for Kenya when implemented properly. ICT projects are known to create millions of jobs (remember safaricom in Kenya). This is the way to go and Rwanda is ahead. For entrepreneurs get in touch with me and i will connect you to land adjacent to the proposed projet for sale at affordable rates.

  41. This project will take kenya to newer heights in creation of jobs and ICT growth. I sell land in malili & judging from the way prices have skyrocketed, it can only get better. A seven acre piece of land ( the standard sub-divisions) is fetching as much as 15 million KES!

  42. How about (at least) a version of M.I.T near Malili. If only the government sets apart a considerable fund for R&D to tech. research, shall we ever get near South Africa, Singapore and Taiwan? I bet they started with the universities and research part not the other way round.

  43. i will make sure that i visit this place and see myself this planned city for myself

  44. its really taking time to see the silent savannah sky being broken by the escalation of skyscrappers. the local community is getting excited.what about the 2km green zone. and the 20km buffer zone. who is this causing the delay ?why not have the planners meeting the people? what is happening?what about the 20 km buffer zone master plan? we need the university and the hospital as a matter of priority.other things can come later

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