Rwanda has taken a giant step in its quest to become Africa’s technological hub with the launch of a smartphone manufacturing plant.
Pan-African conglomerate Mara Group launched the manufacturing plant Monday, unveiling its first sets of smartphones concurrently—Mara X and Mara Z.
They will use Google’s Android operating system, costing $190 and $130 respectively. Mara Group will compete with Samsung, whose cheapest smartphones are believed to cost $54.
For the Rwandan government, the launch of the plant was part of a bigger ‘Made in Rwanda’ initiative.
Concerns have been raised over the cost of the phones and whether the African Rwandan can afford it.
Despite acknowledging the concerns, Mara Group CEO Ashish Thakkar averred that the target of the company was customers willing to spend more for quality.
“This is the first smartphone manufacturer in Africa,” Thakkar told Reuters after touring the company alongside Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.
The manufacturing plant cost Mara Group some $24 million and it has the ability to produce 1,200 phones per day.
“We are actually the first who are doing manufacturing. We are making the motherboards, we are making the sub-boards during the entire process,” said Thakkar.
The Group is hoping to cash in on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, a pact aimed at forming a 55-nation trade bloc, to boost sales across Africa.
The AfCFTA, headquartered in Ghana, is one of the largest free trade areas since the formation of the World Trade Organisation, given Africa’s current population of 1.2 billion people, which is expected to grow to 2.5 billion by 2050.
Speaking at the launch of the Mara Phones production plant at the Kigali Special Economic Zone in Gasabo District, President Paul Kagame lauded the move, noting: “The Mara Phone joins a growing list of high-quality products that are made in our country.”
He added, “Producing smartphones is not a simple matter. Around one thousand individual components are involved as we have been taken through the whole process.”
According to him, the plant is a complex manufacturing operation and it requires significant technical skill and expertise. “It is another milestone on our journey to high-tech, “Made-in-Rwanda” industry,” the president said.
Boost ownership and phone usage
The launch of the manufacturing plant and the Mara smartphones is expected to increase the ownership and smartphone usage in Rwanda. This will, among other things, boost access and delivery of public services, as well as, financial inclusion.
Already, there are predictions that the Africa telecom market will grow on average by 6.7% in the coming years. Growth is also expected in mobile data usage—about four times faster than voice.
Many market analysts have identified Africa as the rising star in the telecommunications industry with GSMA predicting that 80% of the 800 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa will have a mobile device by 2020.
There is evidence of huge invasion into the African telecom market by companies like Huawei, Tecno, Infinix among others; that’s the more reason why the coming on board of Mara Group will protect the Rwandan market from unrivaled invasion.
“The smartphone is no longer a luxury item. It is rapidly becoming a requirement of everyday life,” Kagame said. “That trend is bound to increase in the years to come, as more and more services migrate to digital platforms.”
“The percentage is still really low of Rwandans who are already using smartphones, but we want to enable many more who would like to, and this is why dealing with cost and quality is very important,” he said.
About 200 people are said to employed at the firm with 90 percent of them being Rwandans. At full capacity, the firm will employ up to 650.
Eddie Sebera, the Country Manager of Mara Group, told local newspaper The New Times that they were already in talks with partners from countries such as Angola, DR Congo, and Kenya, among others, for exports.