Generative Urbanization in Emerging Africa? The Case of Konza Techno City
Africa is experiencing an urban transition that raises significant questions as to whether its economies are being transformed structurally. In Kenya, the prospects seem particularly high as the country has experienced steady growth and urbanization since the early 2000s. In response, the country’s leaders are constructing Konza Technopolis, a “smart” urban development project that aims to play a central role in Kenya’s industrial transformation (https://www.konzacity.go.ke/team/kotda/). The goal is to establish industrial clusters in the information-communication technology (ICT), life sciences, and engineering sectors that will foster innovation, attract FDI, and create knowledge spillovers and other externalities to position Kenya favorably in high-tech industries globally. The project is underway with key milestones targeted for 2020 when Phase 1 is complete. This research will examine the design and on-going development of Konza in order to assess whether such a project might spur industrial transformation in Kenya. I will examine the ideas, assumptions, models, strategies, and aspirations behind the initiative, track the project’s development (e.g., financing, media coverage, construction), identify key challenges facing its success, and assess critically whether/how the initiative might spur industrial diversification and upgrading in Kenya. Three central questions will be addressed: 1. How is the specific design of Konza meant to generate outcomes such as innovation, growth, employment, industrial diversification, and sustainability?; 2. How well does this design align with Kenya’s institutional, political, material, and socioeconomic realities and the needs/demands of relevant ICT, life science, and engineering firms/markets globally?; 3. Can, and how might, Konza spur economic transformation in Kenya through the establishment and expansion of diversified high-tech industries? To answer these questions, I deploy a socio-technical systems perspective that draws inspiration from recent calls for research on the interconnections between regional studies, economic geography, and sustainability transitions.