A big boost to the African Tech Industry as Mara Phone, a smartphone by the pan-African conglomerate Mara Group, has opened its first factory in Rwanda as the company hopes to pioneer a brand of African made smartphones. This indeed is the first of its kind on the continent.
Located in Kigali’s special economic zone, the factory employs over 200 people to manufacture high-tech smartphones for the local market and further afield. The Mara Phones high tech smartphone-manufacturing factory will integrate high tech manufacturing processes and will enhance it’s brand starting with two models, Mara X and Mara Z. With two models on sale for $130 and $190, the Android phones are hoping to compete with Asian manufacturers like Tecno and Samsung who currently dominate Africa’s markets.
Opening the ceremony, Rwandan President Paul Kagame commended the drive towards affordable smartphones and underlined the need to boost the adoption of high-tech products in his country. In his words, “The smartphone is no longer a luxury item; it is rapidly becoming a requirement of everyday life.” He further mentioned “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.”
Speaking at the launch, CEO Ashish Thakkar, stated that “We realized a few years ago that to create 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.”
Furthermore, at a considerably higher price, critics are skeptical the Mara Phone will make a dent in the local market, yet thanks to partnerships with local banks and telecommunications firms, the Mara Group has created a financial model which allows users to pay for their phones over a period of two years.
Interestingly, Mara Phones Rwanda employs approximately 200 people, 90% of whom are local employees and 60% are women. The entire manufacturing process, from the motherboard to the packaging of the phones is done within the newly-opened factory.
In addition, Thakkar described his new factory as “historic” due to its position as the first smartphone manufacturing plant on the continent. According to him, “In Africa, we don’t manufacture anything.” He further asserted that “We assemble in a few 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 that it wasn’t possible. Our true belief in Africa, particularly Rwanda, is a dream come true. This is a historic moment which will help shift the narrative for Rwanda, Africa and the rest of the world.”