Silicon Zanzibar: Positioning as Africa’s New Tech Hub in a Tropical Island Paradise


Silicon Zanzibar: Positioning as Africa's New Tech Hub in a Tropical Island Paradise

Zanzibar, known for its beautiful beaches and rich history, is looking to expand into the tech industry as a way to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on tourism.

Government officials, developers, and a team of global experts are working together to establish the islands as a hub for startups and skilled foreign workers, in a project that has been dubbed “Silicon Zanzibar”. The initiative is led by the Ministry of Investment and Economic Development and dozens of companies have already expressed interest in establishing a presence there.

The heart of the project will be Fumba Town, a futuristic city located on the coast of Unguja, the largest island of Zanzibar. The city will contain 5,000 residential units and a 28-floor timber skyscraper called “Burj Zanzibar”, which is set to be the world’s tallest eco-building and a blueprint for eco-friendly construction.

Companies that decide to move to Fumba Town will receive incentives, such as 10 years of corporate tax exemptions and easy access to work visas, under a pre-existing free economic zone program established by the government in 1992. A joint task force is also formulating specific tech-friendly policies that are set to be unveiled in the coming months.

The Zanzibar government’s support for the project is driven by the desire to broaden its economy beyond the historically strong tourism sector. According to the World Bank, tourism accounts for 27% of Zanzibar’s GDP and 80% of its foreign exchange earnings.

The government hopes to attract 800,000 tourists annually by 2025, but officials also want the archipelago to be known for more than just a beach destination.

The island’s beautiful climate and turquoise waters have already attracted “digital nomads”, or freelance workers who settled in Zanzibar during the Covid-19 pandemic and work remotely for companies in Europe and North America. “With a war for talent globally in tech, [start-ups] need to offer their employees more than just a good salary, they need to offer a destination,” says Tobias Dietzold, COO of CPS, the real estate developer of Fumba Town.

He notes that Fumba Town is similar to the all-encompassing Google campuses, where work, leisure, and living are all just minutes apart.

However, some analysts have raised questions about whether an all-encompassing tech ecosystem can be built from scratch, and whether it will take many years for Silicon Zanzibar to become a competitive tech ecosystem, especially with other African hubs such as Nairobi still drawing in foreign companies and startups.

“Silicon Zanzibar will first have to compete with neighboring Kenya and Mauritius,” says Smit-Lengton. Despite the challenges, Zanzibar’s government and developers are optimistic about the future of Silicon Zanzibar and believe it can offer a unique and attractive destination for tech companies and global talent.