Can Nairobi Become The Next Silicon Valley?
This blog post is prompted by an article I saw (first) on Twitter and then on White African’s blog about the potential for Nairobi to become a Silicon Valley. I read the article twice (because quite frankly, I was stunned) by the insinuation and I decided to make my points about the post on my own blog.
The basic tenet of the article seems to be that a Silicon-Valley-like “place” can “spring” up anywhere in the world if the right people (namely a combination of nerds and financiers) are willing to re-locate to a particular city. The article (which you should read for yourselves) then goes on to say that in order for a city like Nairobi to recreate itself into a potential Silicon Valley, it should follow the example set by Israel (another claim, which I found to be stunning). Why on earth would you say Israel??
Anyone who has lived in New York City or any other American city that has a high Jewish population would know that the cultural, religious and economic links between Israel and America are like no other place in the world. Many American Jews go back and forth between the two countries, they have dual citizenship, many financial firms on Wall Street have Jewish founders, at any top ivy league school you are bound to find many Jewish students. I’m not surprised at all that Israel, with it’s close links to American universities, Wall street and Washington, would become a high-tech center. To think that Kenyans, who have none of these cultural ties to America, can replicate this same system in Nairobi sounds rather naive to me.
The second point I wanted to make is that getting people to live in certain cities is not an easy thing to do. The cities themselves have to offer certain amenities, otherwise, these top-level people just won’t go there. There’s a reason that cities like San Francisco, New York and Boston attract these high level people. Yes, these cities have great universities, but they also have great amenities like good infrastructure, nice restaurants, museums, clean streets, bohemian coffee shops, etc, etc…I mean heck… there’s a reason you won’t find these high-tech centers even in places in Mobile, Alabama!
The third point I wanted to make is that people can make all sorts of claims about Nairobi becoming a high-tech center, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what is said or whether you or I or someone else thinks that it has the potential to become a Silicon Valley. As I keep saying all the time, Skype was created by two software engineers in Estonia. Most people have probably never even heard of Estonia, but it doesn’t matter. Their invention was so innovative and became such a worldwide phenomenon that ebay, a company in Silicon Valley, found out about it, paid billions for it and I think those guys are still living in Estonia.
So, these Kenyan tech guys need to stop talking about how brilliant they are or how innovative they can become if only this or that happened…..If they have the skill set (as they keep claiming they do) — then they should simply go ahead and invent the next Skype or the next Twitter or the next Facebook and someone will surely discover them.
It’s not about IHub or TedX or ICANN or whatever other conferences they seem to waste so much time attending….it’s about what you create and whether or not it can be used by people around the world.
Over To you….