Africa’s first smartphone factory opens its doors in Kigali as the Mara Phone is set to become a leading brand across the continent.
Mara Phone, a smartphone from the Pan-African conglomerate Mara Group, has opened its first factory in Rwanda to develop a brand for smartphones made in Africa.
Located in the Kigali Special Economic Zone, the plant employs over 200 people to manufacture high-tech smartphones for the local market and beyond.
With two models for $ 130 and $ 190, the Android phones want to compete with Asian manufacturers such as Tecno and Samsung, who are currently dominating the African markets.
At the introduction, CEO Ashish Thakkar said, “We realized a few years ago that we needed high quality, affordable smartphones to have a positive social impact on our continent and in emerging markets. So we came up with Mara Phones. “
Smartphone penetration in Rwanda is currently around 15%, with the most basic Tecno and Samsung models selling for $ 40 and $ 70, respectively.
Most of the market is characterized by feature phones that use USSD technology to access digital services. a common trend across the continent
Critics are skeptical that the Mara Phone will weigh on the local market at a significantly higher price.
Thanks to partnerships with local banks and telecommunications companies, the Mara Group has developed a financial model that allows users to pay for their phones over a period of two years.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame opened the ceremony, praising efforts to make smartphones affordable and emphasizing the need to promote the adoption of high-tech products in his country.
“The smartphone is no longer a luxury item, it is quickly becoming an everyday requirement,” he said.
“This trend will certainly increase in the coming years 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 make smartphone ownership accessible to more Rwandans. “
The Mara Group has a long history in Rwanda thanks to its 20 percent stake in the pan-African banking group Atlas Mara, which was co-founded in 2013 by Thakkar and former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond.
In 2015 the group acquired a majority stake in Banque Populaire du Rwanda.
Atlas Mara is now reducing its pan-African ambitions through a share swap with fast-growing Kenyan lender Equity Bank.
The Nairobi-based commercial bank acquired 100% of Atlas Mara’s operations in Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania and 62% of Banque Populaire du Rwanda.
Thakkar called his new factory “historic” because of its position as the first smartphone manufacturing facility on the continent.
“We don’t manufacture anything in Africa,” said Thakkar.
“We assemble in some countries, but we don’t manufacture anything. We are the consumers, but not the producers. When we first told people about Mara Phone, they told us we were crazy and it wasn’t possible. Our true belief in Africa, especially Rwanda, is a dream come true. This is a historic moment that will help change the narrative for Rwanda, Africa, and the rest of the world. “
The Mara Group will open its next Mara Phone factory in South Africa on October 17th.