Africa’s first smartphone factory was opened in Rwanda by the country’s president, Paul Kagame on Monday. Mara Phones, a subsidiary of the pan-African conglomerate Mara Group, opened its factory in Kigali, Rwanda as part of the manufacturer’s ambitious plans to lead smartphone manufacturers on the continent.
Mara Group described its first range of models it has unveiled as “made in Africa.” The group released two models, the Mara X and Mara Z which will be operating on Google’s Android operating system. The new phones cost 175,750 Rwandan francs ($190) and 120,250 Rwandan francs ($130) respectively. The brands that currently dominate the smartphone market in Rwanda are Tecno and Samsung, and Mara will be competing with these established brands for the dominance of the smartphone market in Rwanda.
Businessman Ashish J. Thakkar, the owner of Mara Group, gave high-sounding remarks towards the company’s new venture saying, “this is the first smartphone manufacturer in Africa.”
“We realized a few years ago that to create a positive social impact on our continent and in emerging markets, we need to have high quality and affordable smartphones. That’s when we came up with Mara Phones.”
“We are actually the first who are doing manufacturing. We are making the motherboards, we are making the sub-boards during the entire process. There are over 1,000 pieces per phone.” The plant cost a total of $24 million.
One may wonder what favored Mara Phones to choose Kigali as their preferred destination of business. They made full use of the special economic zones established in Kigali. This means they have the capacity to employ over 200 people to manufacture high-tech smartphones for the local market and for other markets abroad. They have also established partnerships with local banks and telecommunications firms to forge a finance model that allows customers to pay over a period of two years.
Rwanda’s current smartphone penetration stands at 15% and for Mara, this is a chance to disrupt the market and make a smartphone a very basic gadget affordable to everyone.
Paul Kagame gave his thumbs-up to the efforts led by Mara Phones to provide as many Rwandans as possible with smartphones.
“The smartphone is no longer a luxury item, it is rapidly becoming a requirement of everyday life,” Paul Kagame said.
“That trend is bound to increase in the years to come as more and more services migrate to digital platforms. We want to enable many more Rwandans to use smartphones. The cost and quality are very important and the introduction of Mara Phones will put smartphone ownership within reach of more Rwandans.”
Mara also capitalized on the general goodwill that Rwanda is enjoying in the business community not only in Africa but globally.