Africa: Kenya Courts Silicon Valley As It Aims to Become Continent’s High-Tech Centre

San Francisco has been the leading tourist city in the US for the past few years in a row. But the Kenyan visitors to the Bay Area in early October were not interested in the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge or Lombard Street, the world’s most crooked. They had their sights on Silicon Valley, the undisputed capital of America’s high-tech industry and home to such greats as Google, Facebook, HP and more recently Twitter.

It turns out that San Francisco’s tourism appeal and technology credentials are in fact closely related. What makes Silicon Valley so great? I asked Dan Kaplan, Product Marketing Manager at Twilio, one of the new startups dotting the valley. ‘The first thing is that it is a place that rich people want to live. People who make their money want to stay,” he told me, paraphrasing Y Combinator founder Paul Graham. “Secondly is that it has two top-notch world-class technical institutions, Stanford and Berkeley, which produce talented engineers every year who are hungry to build new tech companies.”

Twilio describes itself as a platform for building telephony applications in the cloud. It is currently available for developers in the US and Canada only but the Kenya ICT Board still met with two top executives. In a forum also attended by Information Minister Samuel Poghisio, the executives wondered what carrots Kenya would dangle to attract them.

In its charm offensive in Silicon Valley, the blandly named ICT Board (techies prefer something with more pizzazz and less formal) pitched the planned $7 billion Konza Technology City. The ground-breaking for the project 50km from Nairobi is expected in coming weeks and the Government is keen to see “Africa’s silicon savannah” come to fruition.

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