Why Do Africa’s Planned Tech Cities All Look The Same?

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Written by Kevin Mwanza

In the last few year a number of African government have come up with detailed plans to build tech cities that they say will cement their countries  as the world’s ‘Silicon Savannah’.

A growing patchwork of tech- entrepreneurs in a myriad of tech hubs with their revolutionary applications have raised the promise of the continent becoming one of the world’s innovation centers in the world.

Governments across Africa have jumped on this promise and come up with plans to build whole cities to cutter for this growing trend.

From South Africa to Nigeria, Tunisia to Rwanda, tech hubs have been sprouting at a breakneck speed over the last decade, with more than half of nations on the continent having at least one, according to the World Bank.

Major African economies like South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are  planning to pump in billions of dollars into tech cities and innovations hubs over the next few years as they race to establish themselves as leaders in the continent’s fast growing IT market.

Kenya launched a $14.5 billion ‘Africa’s Silicon Savannah’ projects dibbed Konza City in 2013 as part of a mammoth infrastructure and job creation program called Vision 2030 that it expect will create 20,000 jobs.

In similar move, Ghana is also planning to build a $5.2 billion tech city dubbed Hope City, just outside the capital Accra. The project, which is expected to have the tallest building in Africa — a 75-storey tower reaching 270 meters high –, will create jobs for some 50,000 people.

According to Adam Greenfield, the reason these new cities are popping up across Africa is because rapid urbanization that’s taking place on the continent.

Greenfield says the reason most of Africa’s tech cities all look the same is because they all have none-African designers mainly from China in  consultation with western consultancy firms such as Deloitte, McKinsey and HR&A Advisors.

“It’s clear that at present infrastructure development in sub-Saharan Africa has a markedly Chinese character,” Greenfield said in an analysis piece published by The Guardian.

“Even the notorious Chinese predilection for ghost cities is being replicated on African terrain, most evidently at Nova Cidade de Kilamba in Angola,”

Africa’s tech cities are largely targeted at foreign elite clientele with little consideration of how the locals will fit in to the grand plan.

This Greenfield explains is the reason Angola’s Kilamba, a chinese constructed city that was supposed to house half a million  people in Luandan plains, remains empty to date even after the government cut the buying price of the smallest available units.

In her study of the dynamics of African tech cities, Venessa Watson, Professor of City Planning in the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town, says these tech cities “assume that the largely informal urban population will be wished away”,

This cannot be any further from the reality on the ground.

While many African government are eager to emulate the success of IT hubs such as Dubai’s Internet City, their success will largely depend on factors such as access to connectivity, availability of an educated skill base, and other regulations.

Politics will also play a big role in the development of these cities as governments tend to focus more on the ruling party ideologies and manifesto rather than a long term plan developed by previous rulers.