Kano ICT ParkScott and I were invited to attend a day long summit or “interactive meeting” organized by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Eduction and Information Technology, Dr Bashir Galadanci, on the Kano ICT Park.  This summit gathered members of the business community to educate them on the investment opportunities and benefits.  The interactive part was the later half that I attended which allowed the community to voice there opinions and critiques.  The critiques centered around several core challenges: infrastructure, education/skills of workforce, funding/management.

What is an ICT Park and why would Kano want one?

An ICT Park is a strategy where a state can provide resources, infrastructure and other incentives to encourage the development of ICT-related businesses.  These businesses typically focus around call centers, outsourcing, software development, data processing and related services.  The goal is to provide and entry point into a global information-based economy and drive economic development.

Kano State appears to also think this ICT Park will create a ripple effect into the rest of the economy to improve education, job opportunities and infrastructure.  Given Kano’s current conditions it faces huge challenges in not just opening the park, getting the resources it needs to run successfully but also finding a business community and workforce to fill it.  Additionally this building was not originally designed as an ICT Park.  It was built during one governorship and renovated during another with no utilization plan and a lot of money in contracts and little oversight.

Core Challenges:

1) Funding and management – The ICT Park seems to be funded and managed complete by the Kano State government.  This strategy for management and funding is almost certainly not sustainable.  One person said that the current investment by Kano State is 1 billion Naira (~ $8,547,000).  As a side note the maternal and child health hospital that the Katsina State government cost only 400 million Naira (~ $3,418,800).  I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide which has greater benefits.  Some of suggestions from the meeting include finding private ownership and selling public shares.

2) Infrastructure – This building already completed for years and renovated once is still not open because there is no power, water and telecommunications.  The plan for the building (10 stories and with space for 300 businesses) will be powered on diesel generators 24 hours each day.  All other challenges aside this is the most dramatic and show stopping.  The pollution impact, cost of diesel, and inconsistency of power is going to present series challenges to overcome.  It appears already a lot of businesses can not stay open because of the cost of power and generators.  The representative from UBN (a large bank in Nigeria) claimed that they had difficulty investing/loaning any money because they did not think businesses could overcome the cost of energy.  The task of providing water to the building is a serious task as well in a city where most do not have running water.

3) Education and workforce – The focus group that I participated in dealt with training and skills.  First off the question that is evasive is that nobody can define what skills are necessary.  Obviously this is going to vary depending on the types of businesses.  Second the skilled workers needed just to maintain the technology in the building do not seem readily available.  A lot of the suggestions involved getting the government to develop guidelines and monitor training centers.  Regardless there is a serious need for investment in universities, technical schools and training centers.  One problem is that this component (education) is usually a precursor to ICT parks in other countries.

What Next?

This is a good question.  It’s very unclear what the next steps are by government, business, or NGOs.  Whatever the outcome is the discussion about what Kano needs in order to promote economic development is something that needs to continue.  Pervasive issues of power, water, education need to be addressed now.

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