Kenya First In Africa To Make Electronic Chips Amid Questions Over Relevance Of Tech
NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya, known for its Konza Technopolis — dubbed “Africa’s Silicon Savannah” — is about to be the continent’s first nanotechnology and semiconductors manufacturer, a field dominated by global giants such as the United States, China, and Canada.
Located at the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology in Nyeri County, 60 miles east of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, Semiconductor Technologies Limited will set the pace for local electronic chip manufacturing.
Other devices that the company will manufacture are mobile phones and television sets, which will be sold locally and internationally, according to its owners.
The facility has been constructed through a public-private partnership between the university, and 4Wave Inc, a nanotechnology firm based in Sterling, Virginia, the United States.
Twenty students of the Masters in Science and Engineering program at the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology have been allowed to work in the company built at the university’s Science and Technology Park.
Ben Kinyua, one of the beneficiary students, said the opportunity to work for Semiconductor Technologies Limited is a dream come true.
“We have a platform to show the world that Kenya and Africa at large are rising in technology,” he told Zenger News. “This opportunity will give us a platform to exploit and showcase our technological skills.”
Another student, Stephen Kiprop, 30, said he never imagined that one day his name would go in history books as one of the pioneers of the nanotechnology and semiconductors industry in Africa.
“We are ready to prove to the world that we can do it,” Kiprop told Zenger News.
Speaking during the company’s official launch on April 26, 2021, Kenya’s President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta said that the company—built during the Covid-19 pandemic—will rely on local expertise.
“By producing locally, we are not only saving money but also creating well-paying jobs for our young people,” Kenyatta said.
The factory forms the foundation for the East African country to be a regional technological giant, said Kenyatta.
“This is the dream some of us have for this country, our ability to become an industrialized nation.”
Anthony Githinji, chief executive of Semiconductor Technologies Limited, said the Covid-19 pandemic could not allow them to bring in experts from abroad, forcing them to use local talent to set up the factory.
“This journey was not easy by any measure, yet this team of young men and women made it seem effortless,” Githinji told Zenger News.
“I must admit that the local talents surpassed my expectations and are delivering world-class products.”
Mass production of electronic devices is planned to commence in June 2021, said Githinji, who doubles as the chief executive officer of 4Wave Inc.
When that happens, Kenya will join other chip-producing global giants such as the United States, China, and Canada.
“This calls for us to produce high-quality products that will give Kenya recognition in the global market,” Githinji said.
However, Felix Nyawara, an informatics specialist in Nairobi, downplayed the factory’s significance, saying more efficient technologies in developed countries are replacing the technology behind semiconductors.
“We do not have a tech ecosystem that’s robust enough to achieve industrial-scale production,” he told Zenger News.
“This project needs a lot of funding annually, something that I believe the Kenyan government will not manage.”
Nyawara said nanotechnology and semiconductor plants do not operate in isolation.
“They need industry applications. How many tech hardware companies of international standards from Kenya, East Africa, or Sub-Saharan Africa can you mention? Our continent is a net importer of technological appliances. So, the plant (commissioned by Kenyatta) can only serve as a study and research facility at best.”
Nonetheless, Joy Nyangla, an information technology expert from Tanzania, said the Kenyan factory idea is moving in the right direction.
“There is a high demand for semiconductors due to the growing global demand for smart electronic devices such as mobile phones, televisions, cars, among others,” she told Zenger News.
“Most African countries depend on first-world countries for these products. Kenya has proven that Africa is capable of producing world-class products and technology and without being overly reliant on developed countries.”
The establishment of the semiconductors factory builds on Kenya’s reputation as the continental leader in technological innovation.
In 2013 Kenya launched the Konza Technopolis, also known as the “Africa’s Silicon Savannah”—an ambitious project located 60 miles south-east of Nairobi meant to transform Kenya into a technology giant akin to Silicon Valley in San Francisco.
John Tanui, the chief executive officer of the Konza Technopolis, said the first of the three phases of the project has already attracted over 40 percent uptake by investors. However, generally, progress on the project has been slow.
Tanui told Zenger News the government is putting up infrastructure to attract local and foreign investors.
“One of the key requirements for the uptake is the readiness of the infrastructure,” he said. “We are basically building the city from scratch.”
(Edited by Kipchumba Some and Amrita Das)